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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Tuesday, March 29

Arbor - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - The Coyote Attack

Carl and Cathy Coyote made regular passes through the Gravel Yard, hoping always to catch a napping rabbit, or even one just not paying attention. The Arborites worked together to prevent such a tragedy. Dan and Dora Dove, when they weren’t billing and cooing, which wasn’t very often, acted as aerial lookouts, and whenever they spotted the coyote pair they’d come flying in low with a quiet warning to the Yard residents. Their warning was quiet because they couldn’t make much sound other than a two-note “Loo-ay, loo-ay.” And when they weren’t paying enough attention, the quail contingent would squawk and scream their displeasure at the coyotes’ approach. They’d strut around in circles, clucking and making all kinds of angry noises. The circles were usually right around the advancing pair. Quail weren’t afraid of coyotes because they knew the coyotes couldn’t catch them. And the coyotes knew it also. Carl and Cathy would just ignore them, dreaming instead of some tasty rabbit repast, tongues hanging out to the sides of their mouths in anticipation.

The dove and quail warnings were almost always effective, although not always. More than one silly rabbit had met his end when he failed to heed the lookout siren song. Rollie was too young to have witnessed such a tragedy, but tales were told of the unfortunate ones. And Rollie swore he would always be vigilant. No coyote delicacy was he, not Rollie.

Rollie knew that for the safety of the entire Arbor rabbit population, they needed more than just bird warnings. They needed to take the offensive. They needed to make the coyotes no longer content to roam through their Yard.

How could a rabbit be offensive with a coyote, other than to call him bad names? “Ya ya ya, old coyote,” he could say. “You’re so ugly even fleas won’t live in your coat.” Or maybe, “I’ve seen better looking eyes on a potato.” But that wouldn’t drive him away. He had to make Mr. Coyote not want to come through the Yard, make him avoid it like the plague. But how to do that?

First Rollie thought he could make a bed of thorns in the yard. Mr. or Mrs. Coyote wouldn’t like to have to bite and chew thorns from his or her feet. But that would make it dangerous for the rabbits as well. So, no bed of thorns.

Then he thought he could surround the Yard with something that smelled so bad, was so offensive to their noses, that they’d go out of their way to go around the Yard, holding their noses as they went. But a wall of stink would be just as bad for everyone who lived there as it would be for the coyotes. No stink bomb, then. Besides, what would he use for the eau de awful?

That left him with the idea of using some kind of weapon against them. He decided to talk to Fred. Fred might have an idea that he could use.

“Fred,” he said the next time Fred came to visit him. “Fred, we need to figure out some sort of weapon to use against the coyotes. Any ideas?” Fred stuck his long tongue out and rolled it around his lizard lips, then made a few smacking sounds. “If I ever eat enough fire ants, I could send out a flame that would burn those desert dogs’ little noses. That’d keep ‘em away.” Fred demonstrated by puffing up his cheeks and blowing his breath as hard as he could, right in Rollie’s face.

“Ooo, Fred, turn your head when you do that,” said Rollie, looking at his friend with disgust. “I should have considered using you in my stink bomb idea. But I put that idea aside. And you still haven’t found the secret of a nose torch, but you’ve sure found the answer to home-brewed mosquito repellent.”

They sat in the shade of the Arbor and thought and thought and thought. Rollie had one arm up to his chin, the other arm holding it by the elbow, his rabbit index finger tapping his cheek. He knew instinctively that was a thinking rabbit’s pose. As he posed, the Thinking Rabbit, Fred pretended to be deep in thought. Actually, he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open, like a lizard statue. Then, in slow motion, he toppled over in the shade, little lizard legs straight up in the air, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth nearly to the ground. Rollie went to him, shaking his head. “Hey! You lazy lizard lout! Wake up! Wake up!” He swatted him on the tail and Fred jumped to his feet. “Whu-whu-what’s going on? Why’d you hit me? I was deep in thought and you made me forget what I was thinking about. What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh, yeah, deep in thought. Yeah. Deep in a dream, you mean. Were you dreaming about your dinner tonight or was it about that slinky little lizard lady who lives in the next yard? I know it wasn’t about coyote defense.”

Fred pulled himself up to his full height of three point two inches, and replied with as much dignity as he could muster, “I resent your implication that I was asleep. I was deep in thought, and my deepest thought was that you should build a slingshot. I have no idea what a slingshot is, but in my dream . . . er, thoughts . . . I could see a wooden lever armed with stones from our yard, shooting them at our enemy, the coyote couple who come through our Yard on a regular basis. I could see the stones thumping off the coyote heads and making them flee in fear and abandon.” With that pronouncement, Fred raised his head and tucked his tail and went scurrying off to his home in the south arbor. Fifteen hasty steps and five pushup. Puff, puff, puff, and he was large enough to frighten even the most fearsome coyotes around.

What in the Arbor is a slingshot? thought Rollie. So he thought more about it, and then realized exactly what Fred had envisioned. A stout branch, bent down in a flex, a stone at the top. Release the branch, shoot the stone. Bang! On the nose of the coyotes. Bang! on the flanks of the coyotes. He could see it in his mind’s eye. The perfect coyote protection.

He set about finding just such a branch. He found it among the Arbor, a branch twice his height. A branch with a tiny Y at the top. A branch that could hold the stone there, and when it was bent to the ground, would shoot a projectile like a catapult. Now where did I hear that word, he wondered. He knew what a catapult did and what it was called, but he didn’t know how he knew.

He began chewing at the base of the branch, chewing and gnawing until his teeth hurt. Finally, he was able to get it free. He then had to figure out a way to secure it at the bottom. He chose a spot well away from the Arbor, out in the Yard and near the small bounty tree. Then he had to dig a hole. And it was not easy digging, first through the layer of gravel, then through the black blanket, down into the hard earth below. Finally he had a hole about half his size deep. He carried the branch to the hole, inserted it, and began pushing the soil back into the hole. When he was done, the branch stood upright, but he still needed to make it so secure it wouldn’t budge when he pulled the upper part down toward him. He jumped up and down around the branch, hopping this way and that, becoming a little rabbit tamper. Other Arborites saw him doing his dance and wondered again what the odd Rollie was doing this time. He ignored them and went on about his business. He found several medium-sized rocks among the soil within the Arbor, rolled them one by one to the branch. Then he placed them carefully around the base of the branch, as tight to the base as he could, pushing and shoving them into place.

Finally, when he bent the branch down, it stayed completely solid at the bottom. And when he released his hold, the branch shot back up and past vertical and then rocked back and forth to a vertical stop. The branch was like a whip with the V at the top like the tip of the whip. He could see in his mind’s eye what a rock projectile would do when it was whipped forward.

Now to practice. He found several round stones in the yard, each about the size of one of Tucker’s large eyeballs. Tucker’s eyeballs were, like the rest of him, larger than any other rabbit eyes to be seen in the Arbor. He took one in his paw, bent the branch down with the other, then placed a stone in the V. He pulled the branch even lower, then, aimed it at the trunk of the grapefruit bounty tree twenty feet away.

Release the branch. Whip forward! Zing went the stone into the tree’s trunk, about as high as Tucker when he stood as tall as he could. The sound of the stone striking was a satisfying Thunk. He tried another stone, this time tipping the branch a little to the right. Pull down the branch, insert a stone, pull down more, release the branch. Whip forward! Whish went the stone right past the trunk, landing at least fifty feet past the tree.

He spent more time practicing and discovered that if he tried to pull the branch down too far in either direction, the V wouldn’t line up right and wouldn’t then hold the stone.

So, he thought, I have a window of opportunity of only about ten feet from one side to the other. He would have to make the first shot count or he would be coyote food. There just wouldn’t be time enough to load another stone. It was a matter of hitting one of them with the first shot and then beating a really hasty rabbit retreat.

The test was now over. The rest would be for real.

* * *

Carl and Cathy Coyote had just come past the golf course down the street. The humans were out in numbers, hitting their little white stones around their pasture. Carl and Cathy passed right between two groups of them, crossing the verdant green strip from one side to the other and then off and into the street beyond. The humans stopped to survey them as they went on their way. Carl and Cathy had never had any problem with these people. Each to his own. The humans with their little golf game, the coyotes with their lazy tours around town, masters of all they surveyed. They trotted across the street, avoiding several cars that zoomed past them. Then into a yard to the back, then the hunting tour from one yard to another, hoping to stir up a tasty rabbit or two.

Dan and Dora Dove were sitting on a rooftop nearby, but they were too busy with their dove dance up there to notice the coyote pair. A number of quail families on the ground below didn’t miss them. They set up their squawking signal and circled the coyotes and went with them as they moved ahead.

Rollie and the other Arborites heard the warning and all took to their shelters and trees and burrows. Not Rollie. He went to his new weapon and found two round stones, one for the crucial first shot and one for good luck. He knew the route Carl and Cathy always took—entering the Gravel Yard from the south, vaulting the wall that separated the two yards, then advancing along the edge of the Arbor.

The sound of quail clucks and squawks grew louder. And suddenly the two coyotes jumped to the top of the wall, and then over. Carl was the first to spot Rollie, and his eyes rolled in anticipation of the chase and catch. Another young dumb one, Carl thought. He could almost taste his potential meal.

When the coyote pair came into the zone, the ten-foot zone of Rollie’s accuracy, Rollie shouted to them, “Stop right there and don’t come a step closer!”

Oh, he liked the sound of that.

“And just what, my tasty little one, are you going to do about it if we don’t?” Carl responded.

But they did just what Rollie hoped they would do: they stopped. He pulled the branch down, inserted the stone, bent it even further down, and took dead aim. Carl and Cathy just stood there and watched Rollie’s odd behavior.

Rollie released the branch. Whip forward! Zing went the stone like a lightning bolt, straight and true. Thunk went the stone into Carl’s side. “Ooooff!” Carl exploded when the stone hit him, making him jump right straight up in the air. Cathy raced around behind him while he was in mid-air and then peeked over his shoulder to look at Rollie in stunned silence. When Carl landed, he looked down at his side and began licking and licking the spot where it had hit.

“Ow, ow, ow, that hurts! What, what, what was that?” he stuttered. “That, my coyote friend, was just a taste of what I’ve got for you.”

Rollie quickly pulled the branch down, inserted the second stone, pulled it further, released the branch. Whip forward! Whish went the stone as it zipped over the now swiftly running coyotes, heads down and running madly north through the next yard.

“And don’t even think about coming back or I’ll have more of this medicine for you!” Rollie shouted at their diminishing forms.

Oh, he liked the sound of that.

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