Another Children’s Book Chapter Sample

Kitten

 

CROSSROADS AND REVELATIONS

After my oath, and the passing of night into morning, they took me as far from the farm as I had ever been. We followed the road that the Man used for his Truck, and I was surprised to find that it led to yet more roads. Bigger roads. Longer roads. Roads that were so broad that they were marked to split them in two. There were more Trucks and Cars here than I had ever seen. They drove by at speeds that no Cat could outrun, nor any Dog or Bird. The Trucks screamed in fury as they passed.
“Look upon this road,” Claw told me. “What do you see?”
“I see Cars,” I said. “And Trucks. And bigger Trucks.” A gigantic Truck rushed by, slamming its winds against us as it pulled a rectangle nearly as large as a barn.
“What else do you see?” Claw asked.
The morning light was bright as the sun rose over the distant hills, spilling its golden broth into the valley. I saw dark heaps of shadow here and there upon the road. They looked like clumps of mud and grass at first, and then they looked like something else; something horrible. I looked away. Haggard, crimson-stained hair rustled in the wind.
“This is what the world of Man promises us,” Claw said. “This is what happens to us as Man conquers the earth, cutting down the woods and taming the fields and the animals and the plants. Man would make a lap-pet of all of us, pretending to be our ally, even as he slaughters us upon the bedrock of his civilization. Look at them,” he commanded me. “Bear witness to their sacrifice. Bear witness to their murders. They rot upon the roadside of Man’s kingdom! Do not misunderstand: Cats are at war with Man. Whether you wish to believe it or not, this is what Man’s truth entails. Even as he pets your head he plots your destruction.”
I trembled in horror. I could not bear the sights of the road, nor even the sounds. The hissing swoosh of the Cars and Trucks passing along that shadow-stained road were all threats against my life. The wind from their passage smacked at me, promising me death even as their wheels cut through the heaps of shadows that littered that path like a careless graveyard. They were indifferent about who they had ran over. They did not feel any sorrow for what they had done.
But the Man and the Woman I knew…they were not the same. Were they? I remembered that Jack had been ran over with the Tractor. It almost killed him, but he survived. That was why the Chickens called him the “Miracle Dog”. But the Man had not meant to do it. Jack had been overeager. He had ran out in front of the Tractor. That was all.
But these hopeful thoughts were blown away by the hissing wind that struck my face as each Car and Truck dashed along the road.
There were other animals besides Cats and Dogs.
“I see…I see Opossums, too,” I said. “And Deer…”
“There are many animals left in ruin here,” Zoe said, standing beside me. “Animals like opossums, raccoons, birds, rabbits, deer— nothing a Cat would not kill and eat. But here the humans waste blood and hearts. They let the sun and air eat of them, and flies and vultures and other lesser creatures.”
“Profligacy,” Pug-Nose said, snootily. “Unclean deaths. No grace. No skill. Only a wasteful mess.”
“And some not even dead,” Calico said, smirking, “but rolling about, tortured by an inexact death. Tactless and crude and thoughtless.”
“Whereas Cats are nothing but intent,” Zoe said. “When we kill we honor the dead with our full attention. When we spot prey we honor our prey with all of our heart and mind and whiskers and claws and teeth. Humans kill with their eyes on nothing but their own lives. Cats kill while seeing their prey’s lives. We see you. We acknowledge you in your death. Humans do not. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” I said.
“Good,” Zoe said.
I remembered the Truck that obeyed the Man and the Woman; the Truck very much like these Trucks and Cars that drove by. I thought of my conversation with Marion and Duke; of the thought that the Man created Dogs and Foxes and bid them fight for the world. Was it, then, the Man’s fault that Jack died? Was that why the Man said he had a mean heart and chose not to have children of his own? Perhaps moonshine revealed the truth of the Man, too, just like moonlight revealed the truth of Cats.
I looked upon the road one final time. So many animals whose bellies were pregnant with rotten shadows. I could not help but think of Claw’s shadowy eye as I looked upon the dead. When Claw spoke again, I thought I could see his shadowy eye peering at me from all of the shadowy dead.
“Man looks upon the other beasts and, in his hateful envy, he builds fences to contain them, pens to enslave them, caves to imprison them, and he thinks himself the ruler of the earth. But he is the worst beast of all. Sooner or later I will overthrow him. Cats are the superior beasts. We do not cage our prey— we catch them and we kill them, allowing our prey to die with honor. Man kills beasts slowly over a lifetime of years, their lap-pets dying as they live, and never truly living at all. It is a living-death. This is the greatest wrong, and it must be corrected.”

Author’s Note: Another sample chapter from “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch”, my upcoming children’s novel for both children and adults which, honestly, is more akin to Watership Down than Charlotte’s Web.  Progress has been fast, so far, but that is because I did so much work on it before my long hiatus that I am merely coming in to lacquer the wood, so to speak, right now.

Children’s Novel Chapter Sample

Stormy

Fog Of War

The rains departed and a mist rose up from the warm grass, rolling out from the Big Water like a herd of Sheep in a quiet stampede. The clouds above cleared and the moon shone brightly. It was nearing midnight. I was in a mood for hunting. I wanted my blood to race and my mind to stop thinking. My nerves were anxious and my instincts were itchy. I needed to scratch something to stop that itch. I needed to kill something soon or my thoughts would kill me. I needed to kill the thoughts spiraling around inside me like bothersome flies with their sharp bites.
Out to the wheatfield I ran, slipping into that strange mix of thin stalks and thickly overlapping crowd. The full moon was covered in the paw prints of a giant beast prowling nearby, lurking in the shadow beyond its glow and ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting earth below. I heard tittering from the hill. My need to kill was replaced by curiosity. I followed the laughter until I came to the top of the hill, where the concrete foundation protruded from the grass like a gray scar through green fur.
Two foes faced off in front of the Fox den. A large male Fox was bounding around in the fog, leaping here and there while, between him and his den, there stood Claw; still and unmoving as an icy statue never to thaw. Even his tail lay still around him, like fallen snow on a frozen frond.
“I will give you the opportunity to leave,” the Fox said. “Go now and never return.”
Calico and Pug-Nose tittered. They sat at the edge of the foundation, below the oak tree that grew up between the concrete’s cracks. Zoe was in the tree, watching from a branch. All three of them watched Claw. Claw said nothing. He stood as still as before. His one good eye did not follow the Fox as the Fox continued leaping around in the fog. The Fox spoke in a reasonable, courteous tone. Claw stared straight ahead, as if disinterested in the Fox’s antics.
“I know you think you can linger outside a family’s doorway and intrude on their quiet evening,” the Fox said, “but just think of how you would feel if someone did the same to you.”
“Our home has no doorway,” Calico jeered. “The world is our home. The open sky and the broad earth is ours and ours alone.”
“That’s right,” said Pug-Nose, wheezing through his flat-faced nose. “Doorways are for people who fear the world. We do not fear it. The world fears us.”
The Fox spoke a lot, and I would have thought him confident except for a slightly nervous twitch in his poofy tail. He was as large as Claw, but he seemed to be more concerned with making a spectacle of himself than actually fighting. If anything, he fought with Foxy truth. He leapt all around Claw, his tail bouncing after him. He changed direction so much that it was hard to keep track of him as he spun through the fog and shadow. His tail misled the eye, just like a Fox’s word misled the mind. The fog swirled with him, trailing him like his tail. Claw remained still, however, the mist bedewing his whiskers. He was a statue of hoarfrost.
“All this time spent here,” the Fox said, “and you could have been hunting something better. Chickens, for instance. Or mice, if you prefer.”
The Fox bounded round and round, his speech and tail baffling to me. If I had been caught in that whirlwind I would not have known when to attack, nor which direction. The Fox was disorienting.
“You think you are rooted in your spot,” the Fox said. “But the Wind Fox would pull you up into the sky and eat you. And you never know when he will show himself.”
The Fox hastened, moving faster and faster as if he might become the Wind Fox. I began to step back, wondering if the Wind Fox would appear.
And yet Claw seemed unfazed. The Fox’s confidence grew, mistaking Claw’s silent stillness for confusion. He suddenly sprang forward, his teeth gnashing toward Claw’s throat. Quick as lightning, Claw’s paw struck the Fox across the face, sending him tumbling back into the wheat. Claw had not used his claws. Why, I did not know. The Fox stood up slowly, and shook off his hard tumble. He looked at Claw again. The Fox’s grin, and the gleam in his eyes, were gone. I felt a thrill, and the hateful glee of revenge. I knew, then, that the Fox could not defeat Claw, and I could see that the Fox knew this also. He looked toward his den, behind Claw; a black hole in the earth. I thought he would flee. I triumphed in the thought of his flight—his cowardice.
Claw finally spoke.
“Your words will change nothing,” he said. “You are all meat and blood for my morning meal. Nothing more. The wind does not hear the shivering of the leaves it blows. It does not care.”
The Fox bared his teeth again.
“The Wind Fox will take you!” the Fox cried. “He will eat you! You will be his morning meal!”
He charged at Claw. He charged without Foxy truth in his tail. He charged without strategy or deceit. He simply leapt at Claw, head-on, and for a moment it appeared that Claw would do nothing. Yet, as before, Claw struck out at his foe at the last moment. The Fox tumbled again. This time Claw had drawn blood. The Fox’s face was ragged with cuts. I felt my own cuts burn anew as I watched the Fox’s cheek bleed. But it was a sweet pain between us. The Fox’s pain resonated in my own wounds, and I reveled in that pain. I savored every burning ache and agony. If I could have sliced off my tail so he could have felt that pain, I would have. I hated him and his kind more than I could ever love myself.
The Fox stood again, and again he looked toward his den. Again he charged at Claw. This time he landed upon the large Cat, and for a moment it appeared as though the Fox had finally tackled and overcome Claw, the two of them rolling over.
But it was a feint— just more of Claw playing with the Fox. Claw flipped the Fox, in an instant, and latched onto his neck and pinned his fiery body to the ground. The Fox became still as stone.
And then, just as suddenly as he had pinned the Fox, Claw released him and stepped away. The Fox, looking as bewildered as I felt, shakily pushed himself up from the earth. Claw stepped away from the den, as if he was inviting the Fox to return to his family. I saw the female Fox look out from within the shadowy mouth of the den. I thought I could see Candice, too.
Trembling, the Fox walked toward the den. A smirk passed across his snout, for the briefest moment, and that was when Claw tore the Fox’s white throat open with a swipe of his paw, spraying the wheat and grass with blood. The Fox flipped and floundered about—much like the fish from the overturned bowl—and then, gradually, he lay still upon the earth, moving no more.
The hush of the wheatfield was haunting. The fog gathered close like ghosts creeping all around. And then, out from that silence, I heard quiet sobbing beneath the concrete foundation.
I did not know what I felt in that moment. Satisfaction? Regret? Pity? Maybe I only felt envy toward Claw, for he knew what he was with absolute certainty. He was a Cat.
“Where are your witty words now?” Claw said. “What is a word to the power of a sharp tooth or a talon? What good is a word from a throat easily torn? Better to use your mouth for biting rather than speaking in this blood-steeped world.”
Calico and Pug-Nose leapt down from the concrete, smirking at the body of the Fox.
“He was no match for you, Claw,” Calico said.
“No match at all,” Pug-Nose said, wheezing through his nose. “Like a little mouse.”
Claw said nothing. He began to eat the Fox. I watched him eat the Fox. I watched him eat Candice’s father while the full moon shone pale among the silent stars.
When Claw had finished eating, he approached me. His white mouth was crimson, and his one eye an icy blue. His missing eye was black with shadows, and it almost seemed as if the sobs from the den came from his dark socket.
“Why are you here, little one?” he asked me.
“I…I wanted to learn,” I said.
He stared at me as much with the black hollowness of his skull as he did his blue eye. “And what did you learn?”
“I…I don’t know,” I said. My thoughts fumbled over one another, and none of them seemed satisfactory for the question.
“By killing, we become stronger,” he said. “We gain strength from every foe we defeat and devour. I began with insects and mice. Then came moles and chipmunks and squirrels, chickens and geese and whatever bird I could claim with my teeth. And then came the larger prey. The fox cubs, and then foxes themselves, as you have seen. In time I will devour men and women, too, and more.”
“The Man has the THUNDERSTICK,” I said, fearful that what he said was true. “He has the power of the thunder and lightning. I have seen it blast a Snapping Turtle’s shell to pieces in the Big Water. I have seen it explode a Hawk into a cloud of feathers in the sky. He uses it against the Coyotes, and Jack told me he had killed a Bear with it once, too.”
“He has a trifling bit of power,” Claw said, indifferenty. “When I kill the Wind Fox I will have true power over the storm. No man will be able to destroy me. I will wipe their ilk off the face of the earth. Their shelters will not save them. Their buildings and their roads and their machines will not save them. I will run riot over the earth and devour them all.”
I looked past Claw, watching Calico, Pug-Nose, and Zoe gather around Candice’s father. They gnawed at his bones.
“He was no wolf,” Claw said, “but at least he was no dog, either, tamed by man.” He did not take his eye off of me, or the dark hollowness of his empty eye socket. There came into his expression something of wry appraisal.
“Dogs were once wolves,” he said. “Did you know that? Powerful, fierce wolves. But Man enslaved the wolves, and took power away from them, one generation after the next, until some have become as weak and puny as that dog that foolishly died chasing foxes in the field. Think on that, and know who your true enemy is.”
He turned his back toward me and walked to the Fox’s den. He stared into that darkness where Candice and her family huddled together. I felt that Jack had been avenged, even if I had not been the one to avenge him. I watched Claw in wonder and admiration. I did not feel sorry for Candice or her family. I did not feel sorrow for her father. No, I thrilled at the thought of being strong like Claw. I wanted Foxes to fear me. I wanted everything to fear me. I wanted to fear nothing. I would be like Claw, I told myself. I would be as ice-cold as Claw seemed to be. No topsy-turvy feelings. No warring emotions to spin me around and around in a tornado. I wanted to stand as still and solid and cold and unfeeling as he did—as if made of ice and hoarfrost.

Author’s Note: The above is a sample chapter from a children’s novel I had started to write as a sequel to my first children’s novel “Chloe Among The Clover”.  I had set it aside while finishing my other novels/short stories and had recently had time to pursue its conclusion while recovering from an automobile accident (that was not my fault).  My nephew has been urging me to finish it since he loved the first one so much.  The sequel is titled “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch” and is nearly finished.  I have been finalizing the first half of the novel and now will finalize the second half in the oncoming days.

Free “Chloe Among The Clover” giveaway.

Chloe2coversmallscale

 

This weekend I will be having a giveaway for my children’s novel “Chloe Among The Clover” on Amazon kindle. The novel follows a chick in the (literal) Summer of youth and is intended for children on a surface level, but also is intended for adults in its symbolism and subtext. I have received positive feedback from children and adults, so if you want some light reading, give it a try. There is a paperback version too, priced at $8. I hope to have the sequel, “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch”, ready by Christmas.

Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch Sample Chapter

CHAPTER 5 SUNK IN A FUNK

I drank no more milk that day. Instead, I forced myself to leave the porch and go to the wheatfield. I did not want to be defeated by the milk. It was trying to overpower me with its creamy sweetness.
The sky was gray with clouds and darkened the farm with an early twilight. There were Deer in the wheatfield. I could see them wading through the golden stalks, heading toward the Big Water. I approached them by chance and when they heard me they fled, bounding toward the forest on the other side of the field. Watching them leap for cover made me feel proud. I felt like I was the biggest, strongest, most dangerous animal on the whole farm. I felt like I had protected the Man’s field, too, and that Jack would have been proud to know what I did. Maybe that was why I approached the beautiful Cat with the fire-and-snow stripes, my tail swaggering and my chest puffed out. She should have been impressed with me, I thought, since I made a whole herd of Deer go running for shelter. I was a hero.
“Hey,” I said to her, quite confidently. “My name’s Stormy.”
She was cleaning herself with her tongue. Instead of stopping and talking to me, she continued cleaning herself. She also turned her back to me. I was confused. I thought she would be impressed!
“Did you see how I made those Deer run?” I said. “They sure ran fast, didn’t they?”
I laughed loudly, thinking she would find it funny, too. But my laugh quickly died as she got up and walked away from me.
“Wait!” I said. “Where are you going?”
“I told you not to talk to me anymore,” she said. “Milk-breather.”
“I’ve stopped drinking milk,” I said. “I don’t drink it anymore.”
“I can smell it on your breath,” she said. She glanced back at me, over her shoulder. “I can smell it in your fur and I can see it in your eyes and I can sense it in your heart. You are cream-hearted.” Her words were sharp and hard and hammered my ears like a Woodpecker’s beak. “Real cats don’t drink milk. They kill and they drink blood.” She cast a scornful glance back at me and I saw how her white chin was stained pink. Her eyes were a wild yellow, like a dandelion buzzing with angry bees. “Real cats drink blood, not milk given to them by humans. You are not a real Cat. You’re too much of a milksop.”
I wanted to say that she was wrong—that I was a real Cat—but her eyes stung me so sharply in my chest that I felt like my heart might stop. She did have angry bees in her eyes. Her eyes were beautiful and dangerous like bee-hearted dandelions.
“I won’t drink milk anymore,” I said. “Today is the last day I drink milk. I promise. I will drink…whatever I need to to be a real Cat.” I could not say the word “blood”.
It wasn’t a lie in that moment. I would have done anything for her in that moment. When she looked at me I felt the urge to obey her.
“You can’t even hunt well enough to kill anything,” she retorted. “I watched you and that stupid dog hunt that fox yesterday. That fox let you follow him for fun. He was mocking you. You and that stupid dog that’s always yapping like an idiot.”
“That Dog is my friend,” I said, feeling my anger rise. “His name is Jack. He is not stupid.”
“No stupider than you, maybe,” she said. “At least he knows what he is. You think you’re a dog and so you’ll never be a real Cat.”
She was standing on the other side of the pond, now. Near her paws I saw the skeletons of Wood Ducks. They were scattered in a ring around the pond, each one chewed clean and white.
“I am a Cat,” I said, trying to say it with as much self-belief as I could muster as I looked upon the skeletons of the Wood Ducks. “It’s true that I’ve been trained by a Dog, but I’m a Cat. I can do Dog things and I can do Cat things. Watch. I can meow like a Cat.” I meowed, which I thought to be very impressive. “And I can purr.” I began to purr, which was quite strong in its own way. My purr always made the Woman happy, so it had to be a good purr. “And I can bark like a Dog. Listen.”
This was a mistake. The truth was that I had never perfected barking like a Dog. I tried, but I always sounded like I was coughing up a hairball, and just as often I did cough up a hairball. I did so presently, much to my horror.
“Sorry,” I said, heaving and trying to avoid looking at the hairball I had coughed up. “Jack says I bark pretty well…for a Cat…”
She had already slipped under some crisscrossing branches and disappeared into the overlap of the woods. I was too embarrassed and upset to follow her. I sat down by the pond and looked at my dark shadowy reflection in its muddy water.
“I am a real Cat,” I told my reflection. “Aren’t I?”
My reflection looked doubtful. Overhead I could hear the Wood Ducks griping at me in their high-pitched, honking squawk. They wanted me to leave, so I did, even though I knew that the fire-and-snow Cat would have said that a real Cat would have never left at the behest of a bunch of uppity Wood Ducks. The Wood Ducks even laughed at me as I left. It made me so mad that I didn’t even feel pity for them at the thought that they would end up like the rest of the Wood Ducks that visited that pond: piled in a jumbled heap.
I returned to the house feeling like my whiskers and my claws had been taken from me. Laying down in the clover, I tried to calm myself and take a nap. But I was restless. I was upset. My mind was full of fire and snow, bees and dandelions.
To my annoyance, Goldie’s chicks ran toward me, just like they did whenever Jack sprawled in the clover. This was odd and unexpected. They had never ran to me before. Any other time I would have been gladdened, but I was upset. Feeling upset, my anger found its claws when the chicks started climbing all over me. It was like the chicks were demeaning me. I jumped up and hissed at them, calling them the worst word I could think of.
“Leave me alone, you cluckers!” I hissed. “Or I will eat you up!”
They fled to Goldie, cowering under her wings. She looked at me like I was a Hawk or a Raccoon.
“What is wrong with you, Stormy?!” she demanded. “Don’t you ever threaten my chicks again! Do you understand?”
“Keep your chicks away from me,” I said, walking away. “And I won’t threaten them.”
All she could do was gape at me, and scowl. Jack came running toward me.
“What happened?” he said. “Did a Fox attack?” He glanced around so wildly that I thought his head might twist off. “Coyotes? A bear? Was it a bear?!”
I just kept walking. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I was angry at them, and at myself, and I wanted to just be somewhere quiet where I could be alone. I went up the stairs to the porch to lay down on the rug. The milk in the bowl had started to stink. I had wasted so much of it, and yet I didn’t care. I was glad I wasted it, even if I felt as soured as it smelled. Good riddance, I thought.
The door opened and the Woman came out onto the porch. When she saw the spoiled milk she became angry.
“Stormy!” she exclaimed. “You ain’t getting any milk if you ain’t going to drink it!”
She picked up the bowl and went inside, her stomping footsteps making the whole porch shake. She slammed the door, shaking the whole house. The Man started to yell and the Woman started to yell, too. Everybody was making noise.
“Why won’t everyone leave me alone?!” I hissed. Furious, I ran off the porch and sprinted away from the house. Jack called after me, but I ignored him. I ran until I arrived at the lightning-blasted oak on the other side of the Big Water. I then laid down among its roots, where the grass was high and arched all around me, hiding me from everyone. I tried to take a nap.
Naps were not as easy as they used to be. For some reason whenever I closed my eyes my head was full of everything that had recently happened: the Foxes mocking me, the beautiful Cat belittling me, the chicks climbing on me, Goldie berating me, and the Woman yelling at me. Even when no one was near me they still bothered me. It was like wind upon the water— the waves rose and crashed long after the breeze passed.
Sighing, I opened my eyes and stared up at the sky. The black shadow of a Hawk circled above the field. No sooner than I saw it, the Hawk dove like a lightning bolt into the tall grasses. There was a pause, where I could only see the tall grasses and nothing else. It was as if the Hawk had buried itself in the earth with its plunging attack. But then it rose in the air, hoisting itself with casual flaps of its wings. In its taloned feet I saw clasped a little Rabbit, its ears dangling below its limp body.
I should have felt sorry for the Rabbit, but I felt sorry only for myself. The Hawk knew what it was. It was a Hawk. It was not a Hawk and a Dove. It had not been raised by Doves to do Dove things. When it plummeted from the sky the only thing in its mind was to kill the Rabbit like any real Hawk would. Only, it did so without thinking about it. It simply was a Hawk. I had to second-guess my Cat instincts because the Dog in me always ran circles around my inner Cat and barked at it to play. The Dog ran in circles and confused the Cat in me, spinning and spinning in my mind. My mind was always chasing itself in confusion.
It was Jack’s fault. He raised me to be a Dog even though I was a Cat. I was mixed up, like a Squirrel entangled in its own knotted tail.
I thought I knew what to do to help untangle myself. I would do what the Hawk did. I would hunt a Rabbit— not like how a Dog hunts a Rabbit; not with barking and chasing and losing the Rabbit. I would hunt the Rabbit like a real Cat. I would do what my claws and ears and whiskers told me to do.
So I crouched low and slipped through the tall grasses that looked like ribbons. My tread was soft and silent, like water trickling down a windowpane. I felt my Catness asserting itself in my bones and muscles and whiskers and claws. I saw a rabbit soon enough, and the rabbit did not see me. It was brown with a reddish tint to its pelt. I could sense the warm blood in its body, and felt my mouth salivate. I encouraged my Catness to hunger for its blood. I told myself that blood tasted better than milk. I told myself that to drink it would make me a real Cat.
Yet, when I sprang for the rabbit I hesitated, or, at least, I barked a warning to the Rabbit. It heard me and dashed away, zigzagging through the wild grass.
“Why?!” I shouted at myself. “Why did I warn the Rabbit?! Why? Why?! Why?!!!”
I plopped down on my butt and just stared up into the dismal gray sky. Depressed, I laid down and closed my eyes, wondering what was wrong with me. I did not know how long I laid there, but something approached me.
“There you are, Stormy,” Jack said. “I found some blackberries. Do you want to eat some blackberries with me?”
I opened one eye a sliver of the way. “What’s the point?” I said.
“They taste good,” Jack said. “That’s the point.”
For a moment I resented Jack. He was trying to make me be like him: a Dog. But I looked at him and I saw how happy he was to have found me, and to share blackberries with me, so I stood up and followed him toward the edge of the woods where the wild blackberries grew. It was near the barbed wire fence that separated the Man’s farm from what lay beyond it. You had to be careful with the barbed wire. Just looking at it made the crescent tear in my ear ache. You also had to be careful when eating blackberries. Blackberries had thorns of their own and could cut you. And while some blackberries were sweet and juicy, others were sour and bitter.
“I wish all of them were sweet,” I said, spitting out another sour blackberry.
“That’s what makes them fun to eat,” Jack said. “They surprise you.”
“I only like to be surprised when it is a good surprise,” I grumbled.
“Then you are going to be disappointed in life,” someone said.
I glanced around, wondering where the voice came from. Then I looked down. It was Scampers. He was stuffing his cheeks with blackberries. I was surprised to see him so far from his burrow.
“What are you doing out here?” I asked.
“Preparing for Winter,” he said. “You can never start preparing too soon.”
“But the blackberries have only recently ripened,” I said. “And most of them haven’t ripened at all.”
“Have you ever heard the Woman talk about Blackberry Winters? That is what I am worried about.”
“Blackberries make it snow?” I asked, mystified.
“No, Stormy,” Scampers said. “It means the Winter comes when blackberries are still on the vine.”
“I wish there were berries that caused Summer to come sooner,” Jack said, misunderstanding as much as I did. “Maybe strawberries do that. Strawberry Summers?”
“No, Jack,” Scampers said, “I said they don’t cause the weather to change.”
“Strawberries don’t?”
“No! And neither do blackberries!”
“What about cranberries?” Jack said. “The Woman always drinks cranberry juice when she is ‘under the weather’.”
Scampers tilted his head left and right in herky-jerky movements. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “I’m not the Woman.”
The sun came out from behind the gray clouds. With clouds in one half of the sky, and the sun in the other half, it was like sleeping under a blanket next to a fireplace. The air became hot and stuffy. The heat drove us under the shade. Jack started to pant and his tongue hung out of his mouth. It was purple with blackberry juice. My tongue must have been purple, too. I wondered, suddenly, if my chin would be pinkish if I ate strawberries. Maybe I would look like the fire-and-snow Cat that I saw near the pond. If so, maybe she would accept me for a real Cat if I had a pinkish chin. Maybe, then, she would have wanted to talk to me and tell me her name. Maybe she would think I had drank blood. After all, strawberry juice was sweet and blood was metallic. I knew this because when I tore my ear some blood dripped into my mouth. All blood tasted the same, according to a Bat I spoke to once. That was why Cats and Dogs and the Man and the Woman and the Chickens were all part of the same Pack. Our blood was the same.
And you were not supposed to hurt those in your Pack.
“I wish we could eat some of the strawberries in the Woman’s strawberry patch,” I said.
“That’s forbidden,” Jack said. “The last time we did that, she sprayed us with the water hose.”
I didn’t like the water hose. It was like a big snake that hissed and spat at you and stung your butt.
“Sometimes I take strawberries from her patch,” Scampers said.
“You’re not supposed to do that, Scampers!” Jack said. “You’re part of our Pack, so you have to leave them alone. Only trespassers steal from Master and the Woman.”
“But if I’m part of the Pack,” Scampers reasoned, “then shouldn’t they share the strawberries with me?”
Jack considered this for a while as he chewed a blackberry. In the meantime, I asked Scampers another question.
“Why do Chipmunks move so fast?” I asked. “Why do you talk so fast?”
Even as Scampers told me why, he moved fast and talked fast, his cheeks bulging with the nuts and berries that he gathered from the woods.
“Because we live short lives,” he said. “So we have to make do with the time we are given. I know my whole family history because my father told me. He told me it all in one afternoon. You think I talk fast, but you’ve never heard two Chipmunks talking to each other. I am talking very slowly right now. If I spoke at my fastest speed your head would explode.”
“Wow,” was all I could say to that.
“We could die any moment,” Scampers continued to explain. “You never know when a Hawk will come bolting from the sky and take you. Or a Fox. Or a Snake. That is why I need to find Love. So I can have children and tell them my family history. If I don’t, it will be like my family never existed. And I love my family too much to let them disappear.”
There was rustling on the other side of the blackberry vines. Jack growled and Scampers clambered up on my back. We all watched the bushes closely, wondering what would appear. Suddenly, an animal stepped forward on four Squirrel-like paws. Its tail was like a Squirrel’s tail, too, or perhaps a Fox’s, except black and striped with white. It was too big to be a Squirrel, too black to be a Fox, and looked almost like a Cat.
“That’s a Skunk,” Scampers said, climbing down from my back. “Best to give him some space. Don’t want to be too nosy around him. Literally.”
The Skunk walked across the field at an easy pace, his poofy black-and-white tail bobbing happily. He moved as if he had nothing to fear in the world. I was envious of his easy attitude. Being a Skunk must have been nice and carefree.
“He doesn’t belong on Master’s land,” Jack growled. “I’m going to chase him away!”
“I wouldn’t do that…” Scampers began to say, but he was too late. Jack was already running toward the Skunk, circling around him and barking at him.
“You don’t belong here!” Jack barked. “You’re trespassing! Leave! Leave! Leave!”
The Skunk ignored Jack, at first, walking at his own easy pace through the overgrown grass.
“I said you are trespassing!” Jack barked. “Leave right now or I will bite your butt!”
Jack stood behind the Skunk, angered that the Skunk was ignoring him. Jack snapped at the Skunk, not yet biting him, but getting closer and closer with his teeth. The Skunk did something very peculiar, then. He stood up on his front paws, lifting his body and tail up in the air, like the Man would if he could stand on his hands. At first I thought he was doing it to prevent Jack from biting his butt, but Jack was so startled that he stopped biting and just stared at the Skunk. Yet, the Skunk continued standing on his forepaws.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s a neat trick.”
“That’s not the trick,” Scampers said, fleeing in the opposite direction.
I was confused as to why Scampers ran away, but before I could ponder it, there was a blast of stinky spray that spewed out from under the Skunk’s tail. The green stream splashed Jack in the face. Even at the distance I could smell the stinky fumes. I retreated all the way to the other side of the field, retching as I went and abandoning Jack to his fate.
“Skunk-funk!” Jack cried. “Skunk-funk! Skunk-funk!”
He ran blindly toward the Big Water, yelping as he went. Charging into the shoals, he dove in and drank all of the water his little body could hold. Then he trudged out, soaken wet, and shook the water off. As far away from him as I was I could still smell him. The Big Water did nothing to purge the odors from him. It just made him wet and stinky.
Yipping for help now, Jack dashed toward the house. It was as if he had been stung by a hornet. He probably wished that he had only been stung by a hornet.
The Skunk lowered itself onto all four paws and walked away as casually as before. He seemed unfazed by the whole encounter.
“He’s going to need a soapy bath, isn’t he?” I said as Scampers approached me from the woods.
“He is going to need several soapy baths,” Scampers said.