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No. Twenty-two.

Cody stirred in his slumber.

The adventures of the late afternoon involving that squirrel what wouldn’t leave him alone and now pigeons was exhausting for a simple house cat such as himself. He just wanted to keep enjoying the good life of Cat TV, getting fed anytime he gave a certain look or made a certain noise, and napping wherever and whenever he pleased. And right now it pleased him to nap right here, right now. His fellow house cats, however, had other ideas.

Because they had not bravely engaged in combat with a large pigeon, they were not nearly as exhausted and chose to play with a plastic ball with a bell inside of it. They kept rolling it along the home’s tiled floor, the cheap sound of plastic rolling across tile, clacking as it hit the grout every twelve or so inches, accented by the high-pitched tingling of a cheap, tin bell rumbling with its innards. The scamper of cat paws around (and the occasional whoosh of cat body over) him informed him of the goings on in the living room; he didn’t even need to open his eyes.

As he drifted in and out of sleep, he found himself wondering more about these owls. Sure, they were birds, but so was that pigeon. The feather he had found a few days prior, though, was huge. The feathers found from the pigeon after it had taken flight away from the danger that was Cody were a fraction of the size. Just how big were these owl things? And were they as easily distracted by doughnuts as pigeons were? And where did doughnuts come from and how did that insane squirrel manage to get one?

Cody yawned and squinted his eyes as a bundle of fur went flying past him. He stood and arched his back, squeezing his shoulders into his neck as he stretched out his long limbs, straining to release the lactic acid his muscles had accumulated after so much physical exertion earlier that day. Lying back down, he curled himself into a ball and rested his chin on his paws. Even with the commotion about him with the other cats and the ball, Cody was disinclined to the time or energy to move off the floor onto the furniture. Here, he was something to avoid; up there, he was something to investigate. Cats and their blasted curiosity.

Right now, though, Cody was only curious about just how much sleep he would be able to get if he just let himself. But then he heard it—soft at first and then clearly, like a bell that had been lightly tapped once before being struck with such precise, intended force that it resonated through your very being, letting you know it was still there even though its voice had long left, a ghost in the night.

“Hoot-hoot-hoo.”

Cody’s eyes sprung open.

That’s the sound I heard the last night I saw my bunny! Cody thought to himself. He had sprung up and was attempting to find a window that did not have the heavy wooden shutters closed, but it was no use. The house was secured against anyone from looking in and any cat from looking out. It was like all sight outside of the safe blandness of the house had been voided out to keep the inhabitants from getting any ideas and venturing out.

But Cody had been outside and experienced it. Sure, it was nice, but not near as nice as having a secure structure around you, climate controlled comfort, and Cat TV, and—

Cody snapped himself back to the task at hand: Finding the source of that noise. But by now, the noise had stopped. Cody strained and turned his ears in every direction, changed rooms and tried the same, but he could hear nothing.

What was that? he wondered. What maddening demonic creature on this planet sounds like that? But he knew. Cody knew it was the sound of an owl, a demon in its own right, silently stalking its prey from the air, whooshing down unannounced with outstretched claws to snatch whatever living creature was unfortunate enough to be at the other end of those talons.

A rattling of coows from the roof told him that something had startled the pigeons nesting under his people’s solar panels; there was action up above. Above the edges of the shutters, Cody could make out that the sky had lightened though not quite to daybreak, but he still couldn’t see outside. Unlike the earlier goings on with the other cats and the ball, Cody was completely clueless as to what was happening outside and it made him uneasy.

This was what happened to my bunny Cody convinced himself. At the time, he hadn’t cared enough or been enough aware to know what that hoo in triplicate meant. But now he did. Or thought he did. He knew it must mean owl and that owls mean death for anything smaller than them. Considering the size of the feather he had found all those weeks ago, too, Cody, too, would be counted among critters smaller than this owl.

Shaking his head, he made his way to the water dish to take in some cool, wet nourishment. But then he hear it: The horrifying shriek of a pigeon. He had heard it earlier that day, when he had first begun his attack on the pigeons. Though he had not intended to kill the pigeons, they certainly didn’t know that and had reacted as though the sounds they made would be their last. The pigeon emitting that sound just a moment ago indeed was making its last sound, of that Cody was certain.

He finished taking his drink and then hopped up on the table just beneath the windowsill to listen, to sleep. He would learn more about the sound and the fate of what made it once his person was up and had opened all of the shutters and other window coverings in the house. He just wanted to ensure he was there as soon as possible, just in case his person was there to throw open the shutters so very, very soon.

After not long of waiting, though, Cody reflexively curled himself into a ball and fell fast asleep, this time with his dreams haunted by the sinister bird screams, punctuated by soft hoots from a great horned owl that was not soft in its demeanor, something its prey knew too well, too late.

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No. Twenty-one.

Eulekatze Farm had a lot of trees, but most would do well to hit more than a couple of dozen feet in height with branches that didn’t branch out terribly far. To say they provided shade was only half correct: They provided shade to the lawns beneath them but not to the houses on the lots where each courtesy trio of trees were planted. Consequently, the roofs of each house baked in the near-year-round sunshine, which also made them prime real estate for solar panels—and a lot of homes here had solar panels installed. Unfortunately, one side effect of solar panels were mass assemblages of pigeons which housed beneath the solar panels year-round. Only a few homes had the special netting installed around the solar panels to keep this scourge of the sky out, and the homes around Cody’s people’s house were not included in the handful of pigeon-keeper-outer netting. Which is why Cody and his squirrel friend suddenly found themselves besieged by some either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid pigeons that were after the half-doughnut Cody had shunned.

“CHIRP-CHIRP-CHIRP!” screamed the squirrel as it hopped off the ground to the relative safety of nearby tree trunk. Get off squirrel’s doughnut!

Cody was far less diplomatic, letting loose eons of evolution: His face tightened into a hiss-cum-growl, while his back arched and the hair stood out, claws already extended as he pounced onto the plumpest of the pigeons attempting to grip the hunk of doughnut in its stub of a beak.

The pigeon didn’t seem to know what hit it—indeed, as a suburban pigeon in a city which had a pretty strict “no outdoor cats” rule, the pigeon had never encountered a cat, especially one with as sharp of instincts or claws as Cody—as it found itself swiped and smacked hard against the wooden plank fence separating one postage stamp of a yard from another.

Stunned, the pigeon remembered it could fly and attempted to do so, but Cody was too quick: He tackled and rolled with the bird, hissing and growling noises that surprised and scared him almost as much as it did the pigeon caught in the grip of his claws.

The doughnut has fallen back to the ground, where the smaller pigeon of the duo that had the audacity to come between a cat and squirrel engaged in civil discourse in order to attempt to abscond half of a doughnut. It almost couldn’t believe its luck, making for the hunk of pastry when its line of sight to the doughnut was disturbed by the most crazed looking of squirrels the pigeon had ever beheld—or heard.

“CHIRP-CHIRP!” shouted the squirrel, its eyes locked on the pigeon, ready to pounce.

(And then what, it didn’t know. The squirrel just knew that some ridiculous and annoying excuse for a bird was not getting away from the half-doughnut it had traveled so far and worked so hard to bring back to the cat. The cat’s refusal and seeming indifference to the doughnut was irrelevant; it was the principle of the matter.)

The pigeon took the hint and took flight, leaving its plumper companion behind to tussle with the cat. But the noise the cat was making caused an abrupt ending to the skirmish, as Cody’s person came running out of the house, waving a broom.

“Go on—shoo!” the person bellowed, swinging the broom down hard.

The larger pigeon was knocked free from the grip and hold Cody had on it and immediately took to the air, seeking sanctuary from the crazed inhabitants of the yard. It had managed only a crumb of the doughnut; the rest lay on the grass, not far from where it was originally when all of the brouhaha had begun.

The squirrel had hopped onto the fence and into the safety of a nearby tree where it could watch the decline of things, including its own hopes that it was going to get to enjoy the half of the half of the doughnut, regifted to the squirrel from the cat that had eschewed it from the squirrel.

“What on earth was all of that about, Cody?” inquired the person, panting for breath. Apparently, breaking up melees between cats and birds was exhausting work. “Really, you have been acting mighty strange the past few days. I wish I knew what’s gotten into you. Huh, what’s this?” The person had seen the doughnut.

Cody’s eyes went large, his composure regained almost as quickly as he had lost it when the pigeons had landed in a fit of feather and cooing. He scampered up to the person as he leaned down with arm outstretched towards the doughnut and rubbed against it, as though in desperate plea for affection.

“Oh, I see. Not so tough, are you? You big-ole softy,” said the human, scooping Cody up and onto one shoulder, the broom snugged onto the other. “Let’s go get you a treat, you brave hunter cat.”

With that, Cody was carted back inside, but not before he managed to spot the squirrel on a tree branch. He squinted his eyes in mild annoyance.

Enjoy your doughnut, squirrel.

After the sound of the shutting door and its lock engaging, the squirrel quickly hopped down from the safety of its branch and scattered over to the doughnut hunk. Sure, a nibble had been taken out of it, but there was still quite a good amount of doughnut left. The squirrel scampered up the nearby tree with this remains and munched on it, reflecting on everything that had happened to get to this point, to this enjoyment of something so sweet, so tasty.

Doughnut tastes like victory! Like victory that will come when cat defeats owl, just like cat defeated other bird just now! Cat will help squirrel and squirrel’s friends! Cat is squirrel’s friend! Though cat does not like doughnuts, cat still fought fiercely, fought bravely! This is a good plan! Mmm…and this is a good doughnut, too!

Its belly full of plain cake doughnut and its muscles and mind exhausted from the events of the day, the squirrel made its way back to its home in the pecan tree at the center of the neighborhood. The sun was beginning to sink lower in the sky, so the squirrel decided to retire early, which was as wise a decision as a squirrel could make as the days grew shorter and the hunting time for owls came earlier each evening.

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No. Twenty.

Carrying half of a doughnut a distance of a mile and change is a lot harder than one might think. Especially if one is carrying that half-doughnut in one’s mouth. And that the one carrying the doughnut is an 18-ounce squirrel, leaping from tree to tree.

Despite the challenge of traversing such a distance, the northern squirrel did its very best in keeping the doughnut clasped in its jaws, pausing every now and again to adjust and catch its breath before carrying on with its journey. It managed to resist the temptation to just eat the doughnut itself. The taste of oil and sugar made it even harder to stay focused on making it back to its neighborhood and Cody’s home before the sun set and the sprinklers came on in Cody’s yard. A soggy doughnut would impress no one, especially one with as discerning of tastes as a cat.

Especially as sophisticated a cat as Cody, thought the squirrel. He’s so fancy, the squirrel went on, placing Cody on a higher pedestal than he likely deserved. Like most cats, Cody was one to lick his own butt quite regularly. Sophistication seldom entered the picture.

Finally, the squirrel reached the smaller, yet familiar trees of Eulekatze Farm, and it picked its way quickly, deftly to Cody’s back yard. With its heart pounding and a half doughnut hanging out of its mouth, the squirrel anxiously scanned the yard from a nearby tree. But Cody was nowhere to be found outside. At last, a familiar looking orange lump on a windowsill caught his attention. The squirrel hopped down, twitching its tail as it waited for the cat to notice it. But it didn’t; Cody was fast asleep, soaking up the late afternoon sun as though he were solar powered and in need of recharging. The squirrel was confused, it’s inflated sense of self deflating quickly at such seeming dejection.

Something awakened Cody from his slumber and through his hazy eyes he made out the squirrel in its crestfallen state. It had something resembling a very large nut in front of it.

Goodness, that is one ginormous nut. Why, then, does the squirrel look so sad with such a tremendous trophy? Like most everyone else on the planet, Cody did not understand squirrel behavior. He was surprised to find he actually cared. He yawned and stretched himself out to try and distract himself. The motion caught the squirrel’s attention.

Cat is not dead! the squirrel said to itself. It twitched its tail again in excitement.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp?” the squirrel inquired of the cat.

Cody yawned in response.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” the squirrel repeated, though this time it was not a question. It grabbed the half-doughnut and scampered into the back yard.

There goes nap time, Cody muttered to himself as he hopped down from the windowsill.

He made his way to the back door by way of the room containing oh, so many books. It was in this room his person spent the most amount of time, opening one or another and turning page after page. He was aware the process was called reading but was uncertain what it meant to do so, other than that his person’s lap made a great napping place when they were enveloped in a book, but his reason for going in was not to nap. On the contrary, he needed to extract his person to get let outside.

“Meow,” Cody informed his person.

“Hmm?” said his person, as though emerging from a trance. Books seemed simple but powerful things.

“Meow,” Cody said again.

“What? It’s not feeding time. Did you want to come in my lap?”

“Meow,” said Cody for the last time, and sauntered out of the room back towards the back door.

“Meow,” cried Cody. He looked longingly at the back door before shifting his gaze back towards the book room.

What is taking so long? Cody thought to himself. The person never—

“Sorry there, Cody,” said his person finally emerging into view. He seemed to be moving more slowly than he had in days gone by, but Cody couldn’t let himself get distracted by that now. He approached cautiously, tail curled as he rubbed himself up against his person’s legs. The human reached down and scratched Cody’s chin and tweaked one of his ears. “Aw, that’s a good kitty.”

Cody allowed himself a moment to purr at the person’s feet before returning to the door and sitting by it, expectantly.

After a moment to model a puzzled expression, the human unlocked the door and swung it up for Cody. Cody looked up and outside before venturing across the threshold onto the cool concrete and the grass beyond. He heard the door close behind him but not lock. The human appeared to be moving back towards the book room.

A moment later, there was a small thud as a hunk of something landed beside him. It was the large nut-looking thing he saw with the squirrel out the window as he roused from his nap. Cody pawed at it to see if it moved.

“Chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel in its usual, hyper-exuberant manner.

“I’m sorry, it’s a what?” said Cody, still pawing at the hunk of doughnut. “And why would I want it?”

“Chirp-chirp!” repeated the squirrel. Who would not want a doughnut? it thought to itself. Squirrel wants a doughnut. Squirrel wants this doughnut, but it is for cat. So cat will help us.

Cody pawed at the doughnut a few more times then began licking his long forepaws. He could taste the oil and sugar residue mixed with the squirrel’s own saliva. It was not appetizing.

“Look, squirrel, these nut things aren’t really my thing. Would you like it?”

The squirrel stared in shocked silence.

“Chirp?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Cody. “I don’t eat soft, chewy things like that. Knock yourself ou—”

Before Cody could finish his sentiment, half of the half-doughnut had disappeared in the squirrel’s mouth, moving in a rapid, chisel-like motion. The remaining portion was held in the squirrel’s forepaws. It stopped chewing and dropped what was left of the doughnut in mild embarrassment.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel, attempting to explain why it had brought the rejected gift to the cat.

“Help squirrel? Do you mean help you? What would you need help with? I mean, you traveled who knows how far to get that disgusting—”

“Chirp!” The squirrel had an angry look to itself that made Cody wary.

“OK, sure, perspective is everything, and from the perspective of a cat that is very finicky about what he does and does not eat, that doughnut—any kind of nut, really—just doesn’t do anything for a cat. At least for me.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!’ retorted the squirrel. It seemed to be laughing at Cody. Cody was not amused.

“What do you mean that doughnuts aren’t nuts? It has n-u-t right there at the—”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” responded the squirrel. For sure, it was laughing at Cody’s culinary ignorance.

“Laughing at someone is not the best way to get them to help you, you know,” Cody bluntly informed the squirrel.

“Chirp,” said the squirrel in an almost apologetic tone.

“What is it you want me to do? And why me?” Cody tried hard to hide his concern by coming across as condescending. The squirrel was oblivious to this, the sugar from the doughnut still rushing through its system.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” blurted out the squirrel.

“What’s an owl?” inquired Cody.

“Chirp-chirp!” began the squirrel before continuing on. “Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp—”

The endless string of squirrel chirps was cut short by Cody raising his paw. Instinctively, the squirrel hopped back in fear for its life.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel in genuine excitement.

“No, I was not going to hurt you, I just wanted you to stop talking,” Cody said. Then, more to himself, “Feathers, claws, flying death. This does not sound like a very good time. But, again, why me?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel as matter-of-factly as it could.

“Champion? I told you, I’m just a house cat. I’m no champion. I’m not hingspecial.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel, the slightest hint of reverence in its little voice.

“I’m glad you think—”

But Cody was unable to finish his sentiment as a garbled bird call and flutter of feathers swooped down in the space between the cat and the squirrel, a space previously only occupied by doughnut fragments but now containing the flapping of wings and bird.

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No. Nineteen.

The park at the edge of the still wild woodlands on the outskirts of town was shady and inviting, sporting wide lawns of soft grass, playground equipment for varying ages, all settled on nice mounds of mulch. Flanking the playground equipment—and providing the aforementioned shade—were some of the largest pecan trees for miles and miles around.

Snaking its way through the park was a path of concrete making up nearly a quarter of a mile in length, with width just enough for the park service vehicles that made their way through twice per week to empty trash and recycle bins.

The concrete path was used by walkers and runners and kids on scooters, as well as at least woman in a wheelchair who made her way to the park once a week or so with her family. The children would play on the playground equipment, swinging on the swings, and playing impromptu games of tag with anyone willing to give chase across the expanses of greenery, while the woman would roll lap after lap in her wheelchair, reliving in her mind the delights of running track in her younger and more agile days.

Attached to her wheelchair was a cupholder cradling a container of coffee while in the woman’s lap lay a brown paper bag within which were several plain cake doughnuts—the woman’s favorite—for her and her family to enjoy. Surplus doughnuts and crumbs were distributed to the birds and squirrels frequenting the park and its ample trees.

The squirrels affectionally referred to this woman as Doughnut Lady. Indeed, she had grown in stature and standing in the eyes of the squirrels who greedily gobbled the doughnuts she brought and handed out ever so generously. Or so the northern squirrel had had.

Though it had never personally seen or met Doughnut Lady, word of her works and generosity had spread from one squirrel to the next, one nest, one tree, one neighborhood to the next.

All the northern squirrel knew was that it had to find Doughnut Lady—or some of the good doughnuts she gave out as an offer of enticement to Cody in order to solicit his help in ridding the squirrel’s world of the threat of the owl.

Because who could say no to a doughnut?

Racing again from tree to tree, lawn to lawn, the squirrel eventually made its way the mile and change to the park and its myriad pecan trees. It found a place to rest and wait for the arrival of Doughnut Lady. Fortunately, the other squirrels in the park were not yet awake, still reeling from the pecan equivalent of crapulence; evidence of their hedonistic debauchery the hours before strewn all over concrete and grass.

Though the debris of pecan shells lay everywhere, its scent heavy in the air, the squirrel did not let its hunger get the better of its though; it had again raided the bird feeder and lay still satiated from its own indulgence.

Car doors shut from across the park, and the squirrel lay eyes on its target: Doughnut Lady.

She carved a counterclockwise route along the concrete path towards the picnic table near the pecan tree where the northern squirrel lay in wait. Her kids cut across the lawn, squealing with the delight that came with not being in school and too young for the obligations that made weekends like a second job for so many. Their eyes were on swings and other playground equipment, their minds on the doughnuts in the brown paper bag in their mother’s lap.

After cutting a left turn, the pitch of the concrete path increased to the picnic table, and Doughnut Lady guided her wheelchair in a graceful descent, controlling speed and turns with ease, stopping at the picnic table, where she placed her coffee and the bag filled with doughnut goodness.

The squirrel was on its feet, ready to pounce.

But the racket of happy children, accompanied by the crackle of wheelchair tires and casters over the remains of pecan shells and twigs and leaves, had awakened other squirrels, as well. They peered their heads and sleepy eyes out of their respective hidey holes to behold the usual spectacle of people in the park. One of these native squirrels laid eyes on the northern squirrel and let out a “chirp” of surprise.

“Chirp!” it exclaimed.

The northern squirrel turned its head quickly while attempting to keep its eyes locked on the bag of doughnuts. It needed the contents of that bag to aid in its mission.

“Chirp!” the park squirrel repeated.

“Chirp-chirp!” the northern squirrel said in reply, as close to a whisper as an excited squirrel could muster.

“Chirp-chirp?” asked the park squirrel.

“Chirp!” the northern squirrel answered. This is going great! it thought to itself. “Chirp-chirp-chirp!”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp?” inquired the park squirrel. Suddenly, other squirrels began gravitating their eyes to the northern squirrel, as well as the bag of doughnuts still lying on the picnic table.

Oh, no, thought the squirrel. Squirrel should not have had said something about doughnuts to other squirrels.

But it was too late. By now, multiple squirrels were venturing out onto various branches to get a closer look at the unassuming brown paper bag, sporting a light grease stain, lying atop a small stack of plain white paper napkins.

The northern squirrel edged its way back to the main branch to began its descent to ground level in an effort to beg for doughnuts—Did Doughnut Lady always take this long to break into the bag? it thought to itself—but it found itself with two squirrels following it in circles, rotating their way down to where the tree met the grass and dirt of earth.

Whether she had seen the squirrels as her cue to open the bag or sh had done so out of pure coincidence was unknown to the squirrel. All it knew was that Doughnut Lady was on the move and soon the manna would flow from her hands. Full as its tummy was, the squirrel still held its mouth agape in eager anticipation of the sweet, chewy goodness that was a plain cake doughnut.

There was a soft thud in the grass at the base of the pecan tree. The northern squirrel and those pursuing it down the tree heard and saw what caused it, causing them all to stop in their frantic scurrying down the tree: Nearly half a golden doughnut lay in stark contrast to the greenery in its impact area.

Less than a second, three squirrels were on the ground, racing to cover the ground to the doughnut, with one of the lighter, leaner park squirrels reaching the doughnut first.

“Chirp!” said the northern squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” retorted the first park squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp!” repeated the second.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” pleaded the northern squirrel. Please—squirrel needs this to give to cat neighbor.

“Mommy! The squirrels are fighting over the doughnut!” Three sets of human eyes watched the three squirrels squabbling over a hunk of doughnut.

Cat? Asked the first squirrel. Why would squirrel give such an amazing thing to an animal that hates us?

Because the enemy of our enemy is our friend replied the northern squirrel.

Both park squirrels stared, stupefied by the northern squirrels statement.

Uh…what? one of the squirrels finally asked to break the silence.

Cat will be champion for squirrels and challenge the owl that has been venturing out from the woods over there, the northern squirrel told its parkland cousins. Cat helps squirrel, cat helps all squirrels.

The two park squirrels looked at each other, looked at the doughnut, then back at each other.

“Chirp-chirp?” asked one.

“Chirp-chirp!” said the other.

Okay, said the second park squirrel. Squirrels trust squirrel with this most precious of gifts from Doughnut Lady.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the northern squirrel. Hurray! This will never be forgotten, and squirrel will tell cat and all others of squirrels’ generosity.

And with that, the northern squirrel moved forward and collected the huge piece of doughnut in its jaw to begin the journey back home.

“Look, Mommy!” replied the smaller of the children. “The squirrel’s carrying the doughnut up in the tree!”

“Squirrels are weird,” said the older, as he munched on his own doughnut.

“Hmm,” replied the mother, as she tossed two more pieces of doughnut to the park squirrels, still on the ground, contemplating what it was they had just agreed to with their neighbor to the north.

But they didn’t think long. A few seconds later, both park squirrels were back in a pecan tree, nibbling on a doughnut and wondering if their northern cousin really as going to try to win over the affections of a cat. With a half a doughnut.

That squirrel is weird one said to the other.

“Chirp-chirp!” said the first park squirrel in agreement before devouring the rest of its doughnut.

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No. Thirteen.

All homes in the area came equipped with a door measuring three feet wide and seven feet high. Comprised of a lightweight chemical concoction, in these dimensions (plus roughly three inches in thickness), the front door of Cody’s person’s home had a weighty mass and a faux wooden finish, but all that was insufficient to provide a hearty, wooden knock that was the setup to so many jokes.

Not that it mattered. Of all the heightened sense cats posses, a sense of humor was not one of them. Cody was no exception.

What Cody did have was the problem that the faux wooden door installed as standard for every home in Eulekatze Farm was swung wide open, letting in morning sun, brightening the foyer and warming Cody’s face. A glass storm door was all that kept Cody from venturing out.

Eyes squinted in half euphoria, half meditation, Cody half considered forgetting about the squirrel and just continued living in the moment, but he was suddenly jarred back to reality as he felt a nudge along is right flank and heard the catch for the storm door scrape against its counterpart on the door frame.

“Oh, sorry, Cody. I didn’t see you there,” his person said.

As Cody’s eyes opened, he realized the storm door, too, was wide open. He needed only sprint out the door; he was really good at sprinting.

“Meow,” was all he could think to say.

“Aw, you want to come out? Well,” his person said, peeking beyond the porch. “Let’s see how you do. Come on!”

He’s honestly just going to let me walk out the front door? Cody pondered to himself as he raised his rear from the floor and took a couple of cautious steps forward. The coolness of the air now hit his sun-warmed fur. He breathed in deeply and continued out onto the stained concrete, eyeing the painted garden gnome suspiciously. The storm door closed behind him.

Cody looked all about before spotting the squirrel at the picnic table across the street. It looked especially eager, even for a squirrel.

His person busied himself with sundry chores or whatever it was people did in their front yards at whatever o’clock in the morning. Whatever it was the person was doing, he was obviously not interested in keeping an eye on the cat.

Meandering along as only cats can do, tail twitching every now and again, Cody felt the coolness of concrete transition to the soft, natural crinkle of the front yard’s grass. The sound of the storm door opening and slamming shut behind informed him that he was either trusted more than a cat should be or that his person had forgotten about him. Cody hoped for the latter.

Dashing across the street to the park, Cody met up with the squirrel and, in spite of the daring adventure he was already having, asked in a somewhat bored tone and side-eyed glance, “Now what?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel.

“I’m sorry,” started Cody, “but you want me to go where?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” the squirrel replied.

“Yes, I’m sure it’s very pretty there, but I’m a house cat. You must have me confused with some of my larger cousins.”

“Chirp!” the squirrel all-but-shouted in the most unconfused tone it could muster.

“How far away is this place, anyway?” Cody replied, attempting to hide his growing concern with mild annoyance. Despite his longing for adventure and doing adventurous things, what the squirrel was proposing was far more than Cody felt capable of handling.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel.

Cody melodramatically shifted his gaze over his shoulder, pretending to be keeping an eye on his surroundings as every good predator did. Or so he supposed.

“Well, I have no idea how far a mile is, but it certainly does sound far. And how would we get there—walk?”

“Chirp-chirp!” cut in the squirrel, not recognizing the cynicism in Cody’s voice.

“Surely you’re joking. I mean I was.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp.”

It was the first unenthusiastic sound the squirrel had uttered.

“OK, look, maybe sometime I can wander down to this pond place with you, but today’s not really—”

“Cody!”

His person had spotted him from across the yard and was starting quick strides towards him.

“Great, now I’m in trouble.” Cody wasn’t sure he believed it himself; as a cat, he was able to get away with a lot, although wandering out of the yard and across the street was new territory. “Look, squirrel, I really want to help you out, but I just am not sure I’m your cat. I—I gotta go.”

The squirrel had scampered up to the safety of a tree, obscured from view of the quickly approaching person, but where it could still see Cody as he turned around and uttered a pathetically cute “meow” before being scooped into his person’s arms.

Pensively, the squirrel sat in the tree, pondering its next move. Squirrel need to improve squirrel’s approach with cat. Maybe cat would like a different present.

And the squirrel ran up the tree quickly, making for the park on the upper edge of where the still-wild sections within the town limits could be found.

Squirrel must find Doughnut Lady. Doughnut Lady can help squirrel.

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No. Twelve.

This space unintentionally left blank.

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NaNoWriMo 2021

No. Eleven.

Brian Doyle, in his essay “Joyas Voladoras,” writes that “[n]o living being is without interior liquid motion.” To move that liquid, everything from a worm on up the food chain has a heart of some sort, something to pump that liquid that keeps us churning; for mammals and birds, Doyle says, those hearts have four chambers and beat approximately two billion times over the course of each creature’s life.

The squirrel that had deposited the owl feather in Cody’s people’s backyard just before sunrise, when it was still dangerous for would-be owl food to be out and about. The squirrel accepted that risk, betting on the notion that, by what would be the owl’s bedtime, the owl would be well-fed enough to not bother with something as big as a squirrel. The gamble paid off, as the owl was, in fact, feasting on the remains of a mouse far from the pecan tree the squirrel called home; the squirrel, of course, was oblivious to this, as most squirrels are oblivious to most things that do not directly involve seed or nuts or the obstacles standing in between.

Even as the squirrel raced across the neighborhood in pre-dawn hours with the feather again clutched in its jaws, even on the previous day’s journey to get the feather, did the squirrel’s heart rates—its beats per minute, or BPM—rise much above its resting rate of around 130 BPM. But now, Cody’s eyes locked with his, the squirrel’s heart rate was reaching astronomical proportions, clocking in faster than should be possible, giving even the beloved hummingbirds—or “flying jewels,” the joyas voladoras—of Doyle’s essay reason to pause and think that squirrel should probably calm down a bit before it suffered an aneurysm or something. Its heart rate was easily north of four hundred BPM.

Fortunately, it did, in fact, calmed itself a bit before letting out its inquisitive “chirp-chirp” to Cody, which, in squirrel-speak, was an invitation to chat about their mutual enemy. Sadly, Cody did not comprehend this and merely stared at the squirrel, eyes nonplussed at having been greeted simultaneously by the largest bird feather he’d ever seen and by being chirped at by a squirrel.

To recover and give himself a chance to gather his thoughts, Cody returned his attention to the feather on the ground.

Heart rate on the rise again, the squirrel hopped from tree to the courtesy privacy fence separating one house from another and proffered a peace offering to Cody: A pecan.

Cody, predictably, was unimpressed as the pecan bounced softly in the grass.

“Chirp-chirp?” the squirrel again inquired.

“No, I do not want to go someplace else to—” Cody began but cut himself off.

Did I just understand that squirrel? Cody asked himself. And is he understanding me?

Cat understands squirrel! Squirrel understands cat! the squirrel ecstatically said to itself, its mind now racing as fast as its heart.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” the squirrel exclaimed aloud. “Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp?”

“Where, exactly, do you propose we go to have this conversation? This yard’s not terribly big.”

“Chrip-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!”

Does everything with squirrels get said with such excitement? Cody asked himself. The squirrel waited with anticipation at Cody’s response. Finally, he gave one.

“Yeah, going outside of the yard isn’t something that we house cats get to do. I’ve not figured out the whole doorknob thing, and my person’s just weird about opening whatever doors I want whenever I want.”

…although that is their purpose Cody finished to himself, almost squinting his eyes in a grin.

“Chirp-chirp!” The squirrel sounded like it was breathing through its teeth with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for extra special occasions, but Cody presumed this was a normal occurrence for squirrels. Or this one, anyway.

Of all the squirrels…

“Fine, I’ll try.”

“Chirp!”

“Ugh. Whatever. OK, I’ll do it. How’s that?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!”

And, with that, the squirrel sprinted along the fence, hugging the right angle that ran towards the front of the house, near the rendezvous point had been arranged. Or at least discussed. Maybe mentioned. Cody wasn’t sure; he wasn’t paying attention. He was, after all, still a cat, even if he was now a cat that could now communicate with squirrels.

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NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Ten.

A soft sigh escaped out of Cody’s mouth as he slumbered on the bed’s edge.

The cat often made noises as he slept, especially in the hours of the morning just before sunrise, and this morning he was particularly vocal. His dreams were just that intense.

In the waking hours earlier in the day, he had learned the fate of his bunny friend. He had learned he could talk with a bird. He had learned the near-hopelessness of learning to talk with a squirrel. He hard learned much and slept periodically in an effort to process it all, but the deep sleep in which he found himself now enabled it all.

Or that’s what he told himself as he muttered and mewed lightly in between deep breaths.

Sometimes, when his people had turned off his Cat TV, the big TV stayed on, with different images shown on it. Many were of people-made things like cities or rollercoasters; some were of animals. Most were not cool or interesting like he was, but there was one of an animal submerged in the deepness of the oceans—a whale, be would later hear it called—moving in a slow motion elegance that made even the nimble house cat take notice. It looked like it was flying.

And that’s exactly what the whale was doing in his dreams: Flying. With him riding on its back, reins in his paws—golden reins attached to a golden bridle, gripped in the whale’s enormous jaw.

Each flap of the whale’s tail propelled them further and faster, Cody shifting his weight to keep in-step with the motion of the oceanless marine mammal, their destination unknown but with an inexplicable feeling Cody recognized as his purpose. This ridiculous scenario of him riding the back of a whale would take him to his purpose.

Ridiculous as it seemed, Cody couldn’t help but enjoy it. His ancestors, after all, were once worshipped as deities, so he could deal with a little silliness in his dreams of himself, a cat, riding the back of a humpback whale, singing as they catapulted themselves through space and through time.

Another sigh took its own flight from his mouth.

He opened his eyes slowly, hearing something moving in the yard on the other side of the window coverings. Cody was on his feet in an instant, pacing back and forth along the windows in the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, all of which flanked the back yard. Whatever was out there, he could hear it, sense it, trespassing on his territory. Just it wait until he gets to an open window or, better yet, an open door.

But his people continued to sleep, mumbling through their human mouths in a tone heavy with annoyance that he should “quiet down” or “stop it already.” Fools! Didn’t they know something was intruding in his (fine, their) back yard? Didn’t they care?

Finally, the older of the person stirred, arose with a yawn and opened the window coverings, allowing the new sun to spill into the home, bringing both brilliance and warmth. Cody squinted his eyes in welcoming delight before hopping into the windowsill to see what he could see in the time that had lapsed since becoming aware of the presence of something in the yard, but he saw nothing. Nothing moving, anyway.

There was something in the yard, though it wasn’t moving.

The odd angle at which he sat and stared made it appear to be little more than a dark line, barely even a blot on the still-green grass of his yard, near the lone tree on the tiny lot, a tree standing in contrasting mockery of the enormous pecan tree in the center of the neighborhood, but a tree that provided shade and a nice place to bring relief to the ache in his paws when he felt the need to scratch something with his claws.

Some hour or so later, following feeding time and a trip or two to the litter box (OK, three—but he’d had a lot of water that morning, excited as he was), the back door was finally opened, and Cody darted out into the morning’s chilled air.

He ran about and smelled right away what had been in his yard: That damn squirrel.

But there was something else, too, that caught not only his sense of smell but also highlighted his visual acuity: The dark line he had noticed from the windowsill.

He approached with caution and sat down to examine this familiar yet foreign object.

It was a bird’s feather—that much he recognized—but this feather was enormous. A single feather nearly as long as he was, minus his tail, thick and heavy and varying shades of light and darkness, despite the evil he seemed to sense from it.

He curled his tail about his body as he sat, continuing to stare with uneasy interest. Whatever had owned this feather must be tremendously huge. He wondered if whatever had owned this feather would be missing it. He wondered if whatever had owned this feather would come looking for it.

“Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah,” he heard his person saying in his direction.

Wait, he thought; what was that one word they had said?

“Bigger.”

Yes, he supposed; the feather is bigger than me. Then the monster that owns it much be ginormous!

“Wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah,” the person went on before he heard the one word that resonated, that struck him as an arrow aligned with feathers as powerfully stiff as that which now lay at his feet: Owl.

Was this feather from the same owl that killed my bunny? Cody wondered, emotions churning in him, rising like those of a storm. Yet his exterior remained calm.

Looking more closely at the feather, he noticed tiny nicks in the calamus—nicks that looked like tooth marks, as though something had been gnawing on this feather. But whatever had done the gnawing had apparently not intended to damage or destroy it; the whole of the feather was still meticulously intact. Apart from the tooth marks and the aroma of old nuts, it seemed straight from the wing of whatever owl had lost it.

Without this feather, could the owl still fly? Did he miss it? Is he going to come looking for it? Will he blame me for taking it?

Odd thoughts raced through his mind as the sun continued its ascent.

And then it hit him as to what had caused those marks on the feather’s shaft, why the feather smelled of pecans, how the feather had come to be in his back yard at his very feet: Squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp?” it said as Cody turned slowly towards the tree, their eyes locking.

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NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Nine.

The neighborhood in which Cody’s people (and by extension, Cody) lived was called Eulekatze Farm, so-called because, at one time, it had actually been the Eulekatze Farm, growing crops of wheat and corn and cotton. As was the practice of the time of the founding of what would become the Eulekatze Farm by German immigrants of that name, a tree was planted near the solitary house on the slab of land, in order to allow Mr. Eulekatze or his day laborers to quickly find the house for mealtimes or quitting time. In the case of the Eulekatzes, they chose a pecan tree, which grew tall and wide over the years, providing much fruit and and lots of shade from the western sun, brutal as it was in this nook of South Texas.

When the great-grandchildren of the Eulekatzes sold the family farm to land developers (the money was just too good for them to pass up, and they had no time for neither farming nor upkeep of the land), the farm house was carted to another part of town to serve as a visitor’s center, but the pecan tree remained, along with a large square of undeveloped property all around it, a token bit of nature in contrast to the dozens of cookie cutter homes beyond the reaches of its shade. It was in this tree that the squirrel made its home.

Smack in the middle of the subdivision, where old town met knew, the squirrel had not only the perfect spot for food and shelter but also the perfect hiding location, nearly equidistant from all of the homes nearby.

After returning from its journey to and from the pond, the squirrel stashed the owl feather deep in the hollowed-out hole it called home and stood, staring at it, hopeful for what the feather represented: A gauntlet to be thrown down to the cat’s feet; a challenge that no creature of curiosity could pass up. It meant hope from the tyranny of the owl that had pushed beyond the boundary of the wooded area and was circling overland with increasing regularity. Though the squirrel was diurnal in its feeding and other habits, the shortening days meant night was falling sooner and sooner, the owl beginning its hunt earlier and earlier.

Squirrel has had enough adventure today. Squirrel will take owl feather to cat when the sun next rises. Squirrel hopes cat will help. Squirrel also hopes cat not hurt squirrel.

Dashing out on one of the larger branches still bearing fruit, the squirrel devoured two or three pecans before leaping from its tree to the nearest fence and into the yard where a small fountain gurgled water constantly for a drink. Satisfied with food and drink, the squirrel returned to the safety of its tree to watch the sunset, both its most and least favorite time of the day. It tried not to let fear get the best of its emotions, pleased as the squirrel was with itself for all it had accomplished since sunrise; indeed, it had been a busy day.

A rustle of leaves and a tingling on its fur brought a breeze to the squirrels attention and with it a faint, far-off sound of an owl hooting its taunting cry. The squirrel shuddered as it scanned the sky looking for any dots or larger objects on the wind, but nothing could it see.

One more zip out on a branch and back in, nut clenched tightly in its teeth, the squirrel headed for its hole in the tree and the relative safety it offered. If the squirrel had to squeeze itself into the sanctity of this space, there was no way a full grown owl would be able to get its beak, let alone its whole body, inside.

Once inside, the squirrel placed its most recent acquisition along with the countless others, readying itself for the coming winter. The squirrel then curled itself into a loose coil of fur, sleepy eyes gazing at the feather tucked a few inches away. It wanted to touch the feather once more to ensure it was real, but the tired muscles and heaviness of its eyelids assured the squirrel it had truly expended much energy today in its trek to the south, conversing with another squirrel and having its fears confirmed about the presence of a plumed predator that hunted in darkness and silence, with sharpness of talons and beak to tear apart anything it liked.

The squirrel again shuddered and exasperatingly exhaled in an effort to purge the notion from its mind, thinking, instead of another predator in the area, this one with fur and ferocity the likes the owl had never encountered.

Yes, the squirrel thought, drifting off into sleep. Cat will accept challenge feather brings. Cat will save squirrel and bunny and even mice.

Its breathing slowing as it dozed more deeply and deeply, the squirrel relived the adventures of the day in its dreams, daring to further imagine the victory of the cat over the owl, the latter of which reduced to a pile of feathers, mottled with blood.

Outside, the air chilled as winter began its slow approach, leaves falling, gliding ever gently to the ground, one-by-one.

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NaNoWriMo 2021

No. Eight.

When Cody opened his eyes after his exaggerated yawn, he noticed two things: First, that the squirrel was gone, and second, he actually seemed kind of saddened by the squirrel’s sudden disappearance.

In the time since the bunny quit coming around, Cody had found himself lost and forlorn by the absence of companions, even if he instinctively was drawn to pounce and likely dismember the bunny. After all, he was a cat, and cats have been known to do those sorts of things to whatever they can get their paws on, save that of other cats—at least not to his housemates. Cody was fairly certain that his people would have frowned upon that sort of thing and would not have been as seemingly pleased as they were that time he dropped a decapitated bird on the back doorstep.

Cody went to find a sunny spot in the yard and lie on his back, soaking up as much sunlight as his stomach could stomach. As he let his mind wander, he found himself grateful his people ran the sprinkler system at night…night, where there were no squirrels, only bunnies…no squirrels with their inane chirping, babbling as they did about whatever it was squirrels babblingly chirped about…bunnies, which were only soft and cute to watch and made no noises he could hear, not even a hoot…

Wait, Cody thought. Bunnies don’t hoot. What is it that hoots? And he began to drift off, again, eyes squinting in borderline euphoria.

A bird lighted on the fence nearest him, but the sunlight had warmed him to the point he was just too content to really do much of anything. That and he was just so curious to know what it was that simpleton of a squirrel had been saying with all its chirps and—

“Meow?” Cody inquired of the bird.

“Wha—who? Me?” replied the bird in a series of high-pitched chirps and tweets.

“Oh, good. You do understand me,” Cody said as he rolled onto one side, facing the bird. “Now, my winged friend, tell me: Do you also speak squirrel?”

“Ooh, squirrel?” the bird said in its whistle-like manner of speaking. It stopped short, cocking its head from side-to-side. “I know a little, but my accent must not be so great. Anytime I try talking to one of this little buggers they drop whatever it is they’re doing and chase me from one end of the yard to the other. It must be exhausting for them since I can—you know: I can fly.” The bird spread its wings and broadened its tail feathers in an effort to impress Cody.

Cody smacked his mouth open and closed, resembling a chomping action. The bird understood crystal clear.

“Yes, well, um. Yes, I suppose I can speak squirrel,” said the bird at last.

“Great,” muttered Cody. “How did you learn, and, more importantly, how can I? You see, there’s this squirrel that seems to have taken a fancy to watching me from that tree over there.” Cody raised a paw to point at the tree behind the bird where the squirrel had chirped up a fit sometime earlier that morning. The bird glanced over its left wing and quickly returned its focus to watching Cody, knowing all too well that it was tricks like this that allowed birds like him to fall victim to cats like Cody.

“Relax,” Cody replied, acknowledging the apparent concern in the bird’s quick mannerisms, “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s too nice of a morning for that, and I need to learn to speak squirrel. So, bird, how can I do that?”

The bird looked questioningly at the cat, unsure how to respond. How did he learn to speak squirrel? Was it just by guessing what they were saying based on their actions or reactions to whatever it was he did? He wasn’t sure, but he was fairly certain that squirrels didn’t use personal pronouns with one another; they sounded almost cartoonishly crude in their speech, gesticulating wildly with paws and head and tail. It’s not like there were classes to take or anything.

“Um, Mr. Cat—it is ‘mister,’ isn’t it?” began the bird. “I, uh…I don’t want to offend.”

“Sure, ‘mister’ is fine,” muttered Cody. He wasn’t much for pleasantries or formalities. Few cats were. Most were known for licking their own butts or coughing up hairballs at the most inopportune moments. His people certainly weren’t fond of his or his roommates’ habits.

“Well, Mr. Cat, you see…” the bird was apprehensive, fearful in his anticipation of the cat’s reaction. Cody shifted his body about, bring himself upright. “You see, I don’t know. My guess is that, really, I’m just guessing at what the squirrel is saying.”

“Yes, it’s obviously your accent that’s the problem, then,” Cody retorted in cold annoyance.

The bird stared blankly at Cody, awaiting the quick, cold death it felt the cat had decided he deserved, given his answer. But Cody did nothing but sit and stare.

“Fine, then. I’m done with you, bird; you may depart my presence.”

The bird shifted its weight a bit, unsure what, if anything, he should say before leaving. “I’m sorry,” was what finally came out. “But if it helps—” he caught himself saying as he turned back around, tucking his wings back behind him, almost bowing towards the cat, “squirrels seem really hung up on gestures and body positions.” He paused. “At least that’s what I’ve been kind of able to figure out. Kind of.”

“How primitive,” he said, more to himself than the bird.

“Yes, well,” the bird started, “if there’s nothing else, then, I’ll be on my wa—”

“Bird?” Cody interrupted.

“Yes, sir?” he said as an answer. Sir? Why did he call him “sir”?

“Have you seen a bunny about these parts? Cottontail. Nice ears.”

“Not in a while, Mr. Cat. See, there was this owl—”

“Owl?” Cody gave his full attention to the bird, even taking a step forward, looking directly up at the fence.

“Yes, sir. An owl. It’s been coming around here at night, and the last time it was here, well, I heard it said that it killed a bunny.”

Killed.

Despite his own murderous practices of toying with creatures smaller and more animated than himself, the word struck Cody hard. The bunny had been so pure, so softly pleasing to look at and watch. And something called an owl had the audacity to come and take that away from him? As much as the sound of “sir” coming from the bird had pleased him, word of the death of his bunny friend shifted his mood to the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

“Killed, you say?” Cody was doing his best to choke back any semblance of emotion in his voice. “Hmm. Good for this owl. Beat me to it.”

“Oh,” said the bird, shocked at the coldness in the cat’s tone. “OK, then. I’ll just be, um, leaving, then.”

“Bird?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Thank you.”

Had a cat just thanked him? No matter; the bird knew he had overstayed his welcome and was ready to take flight into the morning. Maybe that new bird feeder had been fixed and restocked. He was beginning to get really hungry.

“Yes, sir,” replied the bird, and, with a couple of flicks of his feathered wings, he had taken flight, lost to sight in the brilliance of the sun in its arc across the sky.

Cody fixated his eyes to the ground, vowing to avenge his bunny friend if he would ever get the chance. And if he could ever figure out what, exactly, an owl was.