My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
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.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Saturday, April 30

More Idol

The judges all looked surprised by the ouster of Casey Abrams last Tuesday, bur they shouldn’t have been. He’s a jazz musician and Idol is a popularity contest, and jazz isn’t very popular with the kind of fan the show attracts. So his being voted out shouldn’t have surprised anyone, not even Casey. He was certainly the first or second best contestant, with James Durbin being the other one. And now we’re left with one who should win and four who shouldn’t. But remember what happened the last two years? Adam Lambert was the best and was only a runnerup, as was Cindy Bowersox last season. And though James will probably make it to the final night, he too will lose out to one of the less talented. I’m guessing that Jacob Lusk will be the next to go, followed by Haley Reinhart, and then Lauren Alaina, leaving country boy Scotty and rocker James in the final shootout. And guess what, Scotty will win out over James, making this one of the dumbest outcomes in the ten seasons.

Wednesday, April 27

The Trumpster

I haven’t written anything for quite a while, mainly because I couldn’t think of anything worth writing about. But then, along came Donald Trump, the Donald. And he gave me something to write about. I’ve long thought that anyone who would wear his hair in that Trumpy style must be really stupid, and today, it was confirmed, he really is stupid. Rich, yes, but stupid, a resounding yes. Today he reaffirmed his belief that our president, Barack Obama, wasn’t born in this country, and therefore is not a citizen of the United States, therefore shouldn’t be president. I realize that way too many of our citizens also believe that really stupid rumor. And I realize that way too many of our citizens also think that Sarah Palin would be a good candidate for president, or that Donald Trump would be a good candidate for president. Whoa! Now both those thoughts are really stupid, and anyone holding those thoughts must be equally stupid. I mean, Tea Partiers, for the most part, are creationists and not evolutionists, and that announces in CAPITAL LETTERS their stupidity. And anyone who would even consider voting for Sarah Palin or Donald Trump for president of the United States must be summa cum laude with a major in Stupidity.

Thursday, April 21

American Idol - Seven Left

This week’s Idol singoff wasn’t as good as last week’s, mainly because I hated the category from which they had to choose, anything from the 21st century. So we got two countries from the country boy and girl, Scotty and Lauren, and the rest pretty much rock or metal, with everyone demonstrating how high a note they could hit. Dogs started barking. If the winner were based on musical ability instead of popularity, Casey Abrams and James Durbin would be the front runners. Both will probably get voted off in the next two or three weeks. Neither of them will be very visible after the show is over, both of them probably touring with groups, Casey with his own jazz ensemble and James with a heavy metal group of his devising. But they’re the best musicians. I see cock-headed Scotty winning it all with fat-thighed Lauren a close second. The highlight of last night’s show was when Casey, singing “Harder to Breathe,” ended the number by giving Jennifer Lopez a peck on the cheek, surprising her and all the viewers. A classy bit from a very good singer/musician. Anyone who didn’t get to see it can go to YouTube. And speaking of young, talented musicians you might also check out a lovely 16-year old Canadian named Nikki Yanofsky. How can someone that young be that talented? Check her out.

Sunday, April 17

American Idol

At the end of last season’s American Idol I swore I wouldn’t watch any more of it—too much Ryan for my stomach to take, too many waving arms, too many “Yo, Dawg”s from Randy. But I got hooked again for the performances of the top 12, and after this week they’ll be down to seven. After last night’s show with the top eight performing, I have to eat my words and grant Idol some well-earned praise. This season, they’ve gone nearly overboard with expensive sets and wardrobe for the singers. And the eight performances last Tuesday were all better than almost any from the first ten seasons. I can’t get over how professional they all are. Then there’s the odd voting. For most of the seasons, someone far superior to most of the others gets voted off. The voting demographics probably account for that. Of the viewers who vote, at least a fourth are 11- to 13-year-olds, most of whom are girls with a crush on one male or another. And they all vote about a bazillion times each week. Thus, Pia Toscano gets voted out and heart-throb Scotty remains. Not that Scotty isn’t good, he’s very good. But he’s also a one-trick country pony. I’m guessing that probably the best musician, Casey Abrams, will be the next to go. Thank heavens, he finally got the message and had his hair cut and styled, his beard trimmed. This week he decided to go against his advisors and sing Nat King Cole’s old chestnut, “Nature Boy,” giving it a jazzy samba treatment, playing a white bass accompanied by jazz piano, with even a tiny bit of scat to go with the bass. It was excellent. But will the tiny tots think so? No. So long, Casey. Probably the two weakest left in the running are Scotty and Lauren, and they’ll probably be the last two standing on the final show. Lots of people don’t care for Jacob Lusk, but he’s Luther Vandross reincarnated. He’s very good but won’t last much longer. And James Durbin is probably the second best musician, but he too will be one of the next three to go. Well, at least the voters got it right this week, sending Paul McDonald packing, he of the world’s whitest teeth Again, though, let me say that this season’s show is much more professional and less cheesy than in the past. No more waving arms in the first several rows. Even Randy has decided to dress up a bit, even a tie last week. And JLo is probably the best judge they’ve ever had, making cogent comments after each performance. And she’s a knockout to look at. I can even finally stand Steven Tyler whereas when I first saw him on Two-And-a-Half Men and the start of Idol I hated him. But he’s nearly as pretty as JLo.

Saturday, April 16

Growing Old

Walk with me by the water, well worth the read . . .



I FORGOT THE WORDS! (Thanks Larry & Donna.)

I went to The Conspirator, the just released film directed by Robert Redford, about the Booth-led conspiracy to kill Lincoln, Seward, and Johnson just before the end of the Civil War. The conspirator of the title was Mary Surratt, who owned the boardinghouse where Booth and his followers laid their plans for the assassination. Most of the film involves the trial of Surratt, a military tribunal in which she is pretty much railroaded into a conviction, and her death by hanging. It is never made clear historically if she was guilty or not guilty, but our assumption is that she was simply the victim of a court disdaining any civil rights, too much like what happened after 9/11. Good flick.

Wednesday, April 13

Two Reviews

I recently saw two movies, Source Code and Hanna, both of which were very good, but both posed a bunch of questions left unanswered. Or maybe I’m just not very insightful.

Source Code, sort of like Sideways, left me wondering how I was ever going to remember that title. I never did figure out what “sideways” meant in terms of the movie of that name. I finally looked up “source code” on the net and learned that it’s the text written in computer programming language. Okay. But I still think I’d rather have had a title more in tune with the movie. Source Code (or better, Flashback) was based on an old science fiction plum about alternate universes. Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a decorated helicopter pilot, awakens to find himself aboard a train passing through Chicago, seated across from a woman, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who seems to know him, telling him that she’s decided to take his advice but she doesn’t ever say what that advice is. Eight minutes pass for a very confused Capt. Stevens (and the viewer as well), and then the train blows up, killing him and everyone else aboard. He awakens to find himself back in what he thinks is a simulator capsule, conversing via computer screen with a woman handler (Vera Farmiga) who tells him that he is involved in a scientific method for sending someone back to recreate the last memories of one who died in the bombing. We find out that he’s been sent there to discover who the bomber is so that he can defuse an even greater terrorist threat later that afternoon. He has only eight minutes to learn all this, after which time the bomb goes off and he returns to the simulator. Farmiga tells him that he is the closest in physical and mental attributes to those of the dead man on the train. In the first attempt he doesn’t learn much, only examining fellow passengers to see which might be the bomber. He is sent back repeatedly, each time learning more and more about where the bomb is and who might be responsible, each time running through his eight minutes, each time dying in the explosion. As I said, an old science fiction plum but one that‘s juicy and satisfying, despite all the questions I had as I walked out of the theater. Go see it. Then tell me what your answers are.

The previews of Hanna were so intriguing that I could hardly wait to see it. I mean, a young girl named Hanna (Saoirise Ronan), sixteen years old and living with her father Erik (Eric Bana) in a remote region of northern Finland, being home schooled and trained in various skills that would do any assassin proud. We learn that the father is a CIA agent who opted out, fleeing with his daughter after the mother is killed by another CIA agent, played by a charmingly sinister Cate Blanchett. Erik is training his daughter supposedly to find and kill Marissa (Blanchett). Why Hanna? Why not him? The time finally comes when she declares that she is ready. What follows is a tour of her capture, her killing of one she thinks is Marrissa, her escape from where she is being held (in an underground Moroccan facility) and then a Quixotic journey afoot through the desert, then joining a British family touring Morocco, eluding a psychopath that Marissa has sent to find and kill her, finally making her way to Germany where she is to meet her father at Mr. Grimm’s house. This is followed by lots of kick-ass action, ending with an echo of something Hanna said near the beginning when she killed with bow and arrow an antlered deer in the snows of Finland, “I just missed your heart.” This while she is gutting and skinning the animal. It reminded me of that popular saying from There Will Be Blood when Daniel Day-Lewis told the young preacher, “I’ll drink your milkshake.” I had to look that one up to find that early 20th century oil drillers meant that they could legally drill a well down and then under someone else’s property to extract the oil, sort of like drinking someone else’s milkshake. Still quite a few questions about everyone’s motivation. But there’s one question with one very good answer: Who will be around long after this movie is forgotten? Answer: Young Saoirise Ronan, fair and youthfully beautiful, will be around for a very long time. Go see it if only to watch her in kick-ass action.

Saturday, April 9

Arbor - Epilogue & Pickles


The view from above, let’s say from a hot air balloon, would show a much closer view of the city below. And if one looked really carefully, one would see a house and a yard, the back of which is guarded by a stand of tall arborvitae trees, with four fruit trees nearby. And if one looked really really carefully, one might even see two small rabbits dancing in the yard. And if one looked really really really carefully, one might see a tiny brown lizard with eyes that rolled up and down and around and around, like marbles spinning in a children’s game, standing guard against all the dangers that fly or crawl or run, babysitting four tiny rabbits jumping and leaping in twists and twirls, shouting in tiny rabbit voices, “Aheeee Yah!”.

Wisdom from Pickles

Arbor - Chapter 16

Chapter 16 – Tucker’s Challenge 2

“Life in the Arbor is best, is best, / And now I’m no longer sad. / Life in the Arbor with all my friends /Is just fine for this rabbity lad.”

Sometime after midnight, Rollie and Kitty had stolen out of the burrow and were now sitting in the gravel yard, looking deeply into each other’s eyes. A full moon was overhead, making the night seem like day, a silvery day, and their eyes were silver coins. In his tremulous tenor, Rollie was singing softly, for only Kitty to hear:

“I felt a desire / To go farther and higher, / But all I found out there / Was a dry streambed / That eventually led / To a land both cruel and bare.

Then I came home to find / That I’d always been blind / To the treasures that were so near. / I went out on a quest / When it would have been best / If my quest had kept me right here.”

Kitty was entranced with Rollie’s voice, and she felt she wanted to hear him sing to her forever. But she didn’t say that. Instead she said, “Rollie, would you care to dance?”

They began dancing the traditional rabbit love dance, facing one another, bodies hugging the ground, then the male leaping up like a Jack-in-the-box, the female dashing beneath to the other side, then whirling to face one another again, then the female up and the male under. It wasn’t a complicated dance with intricate variations, just the traditional moonlit dance of two rabbits in love.

They continued for six or seven leaps and dashes, and then simply sat and looked into each other’s eyes. Rollie sang again:

“Life in the Arbor / Is grand, so grand, / And now fair Kitty is home. / My life in the Arbor / Would be so sweet, / With a wife in the Arbor / I’d be complete, / And I’d never be tempted to roam.”

Kitty sighed, Rollie sighed. They touched noses and sighed together. Then Rollie sang:

“Oh, Kitty, sweet Kitty, / Will you ever be mine? / So pretty, sweet Kitty, / Please give me a sign / To say that you’ll always be mine.

Oh, Kitty, sweet Kitty, /If you say you’ll be mine, / Like vines in the Arbor / Our lives intertwine. / I found you, you found me / As if it was fate. / If you say you’ll have me / We’ll then set a date.”

Kitty looked at him, Rollie looked at her. She couldn’t believe her high rabbit ears. He’d just asked for her hand, her paw. And she was more than ready with an answer.

“Yes, Rollie, yes. I’ll be yours forever. And I think the date should be tomorrow.”

* * *

The sun rose gloriously golden in the east, ribbons of gold and scarlet and pink.

Rollie and Kitty spoke to Rollie’s parents, who gave their blessings on the union. And word was sent out to all the Arborites, who then sent out word to relatives in near and far yards about the wedding to take place. Rollie’s sister Polly would serve as Kitty’s maid-of-honor, and Fred would serve as Rollie’s best lizard. Rollie and Kitty would be wed at high noon, and Rollie’s father would perform the ceremony. High noon.

By 11:30 the yard began to fill with all kinds of creatures: rabbits and lizards and quail, sparrows and pigeons and doves, Buzz and Millie and all of Buzz’s hummingbird relatives, javalinas, grackles, several woodpeckers and one cardinal couple who happened to be passing through. But no hawks or owls or coyotes, though, for they would rather have the bride and groom for dessert than even a piece of wedding cake. The sounds of the accumulated voices grew louder and louder: whistles and coo-cooos, grunts and squeals, chirps and squawks, and even some meows from Dusty and Squeakie and Fara, who were sitting at attention on the cat perches on the patio.

High noon. The ceremony began.

“We are here today,” Ben Rabbit began in a loud voice, “to witness the joining of these two rabbits, to join them in holy matrimony.” He paused and looked around and around. “If there is anyone here who objects to this union, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” Another pause and a long look around.

Suddenly, from deep in the shadows of the Arbor, a loud voice was heard. “I object! I, Tucker Rabbit, object!” Tucker strode from the shadows out in the sunlight and all in attendance were impressed with his size and apparent strength.

“I also would like Kitty Rabbit to be mine!” he shouted. “And I demand the right to fight for her hand. The winner shall have her. It is only correct and fair, and it is in the ancient Rabbit Book of Laws: ‘Any two who vie for the same mate shall fight for that mate. To the victor belongs the maiden.’ I intend to invoke that law.”

“Oh, boo! Boo!” the crowd screamed. “Boo! Sssssss! What a bad rabbit you are, Tucker Rabbit! You should be ashamed of yourself!” But Tucker merely scowled around at the assembled folk until the booing and hissing stopped.

Rollie and Kitty looked at each other. Then Kitty said, “No, oh, no. I don’t want that. I want you, Rollie, not this big ape of a rabbit. What can you do to prevent it?”

Rollie just looked at her and shook his head sadly. “I can’t do anything about it, about the challenge, that is. What I can do, and must do, is fight him for your paw. You do understand I have to obey the Rabbit Book of Laws, don’t you? I have no choice.” He took her paw in his and looked into her eyes and said, “But I will fight him, and I will win. Have no doubt about that, no doubt about me. You are my treasure and I won’t lose you to that ‘big ape of a rabbit,’ as you so correctly described him.”

Rollie turned away from her and looked at Tucker. He narrowed his eyes and said, “All right, then, fight it is!”

The crowd formed a circle in the middle of the yard, with Tucker on one side and Rollie on the other, and the noise from the crowd was like waves on the ocean, rising and receding.

Tucker crouched and advanced on Rollie. Rollie just stood there and waited for him. Then Tucker charged. At the last possible moment before they crashed together, Rollie leaped in the air, spun around, and yelled, “Aheeee Yah!” The “Yah” coincided with the striking of Rollie’s foot right in the middle of Tucker’s chest and Tucker went PHLUMP! on his Tucker behind in the gravel of the yard.

“Hoorayyy!” shouted the crowd around them, and the noise grew even louder.

Tucker simply sat there for a moment, his eyes glazed and his breathing labored. Then he slowly got to his feet.

“What sort of unfair trick was that, Rollie Rabbit!” he shouted as best a shout as he could muster, for he still hadn’t found all the air in his lungs. “I will get you for that, and here I come!”

He rushed at Rollie as fast as he could muster, for he still hadn’t recovered all the speed in his legs.

At the last possible moment before they crashed together, Rollie leaped in the air, twisted up and around and yelled, “Aheeee Yah!” This “Yah” coincided with the striking of Rollie’s foot right on the end of Tucker’s very large nose and Tucker flew onto his back in the gravel yard.

“HOOOORAAAYY!” the crowd screamed.

This time Tucker was not so eager to get up, and he lay there for what seemed like a silent hour but was really only a few moments. He touched one paw to his chest and winced at the pain. He touched the other paw to his nose and winced at the pain. His eyes flooded with tears of pain and humiliation. He tried to get up but could only roll over on his stomach. From there, he pushed himself slowly upright, dusted himself off, looked at Rollie, looked at Kitty, looked all around at the crowd.

“All right, all right. I give up. The Law says I must give up any claim to this lady rabbit. And I do. The Law says I must agree never to challenge my opponent ever again. And I do.”

He turned to go but Rollie stopped him by saying, “You are a good rabbit, Tucker. You should let the goodness come out and not just that false front you wear. You’ve always thought you were too good, maybe. But I concede to you your size and your strength. Now you should put them to better use than you have so far. And to prove yourself, you should go to your burrow and bring back Fred’s reflecting glass. You have no right to it. You never had a right to it. Show us where your heart now is and return it.”

Tucker sighed and slowly nodded his head. He trudged off to his burrow to get Fred’s reflecting glass.

He returned in a few minutes, dragging the round mirror behind him. Never once looking in the glass for fear of seeing himself humiliated and beaten, he placed it at Fred’s feet. “Here, lizard-face, here is your reflecting glass. I never liked it anyway, too many lizardy images in it.” Fred hopped up onto the mirror and spun around, then did not just a few but at least thirty pushups in his joy at his treasure’s return.

He looked at Tucker and made a face. “You just can’t stop insulting me, can you, Tucker. If you’re going to turn over a new leaf, maybe you should start by apologizing to me for all the many insults you’ve heaped upon me. Prove to us you’re a bigger and a better rabbit for what happened today.”

Fred stared at Tucker, his little lizard arms folded across his little lizard chest. Finally, Tucker sighed a really deep sigh and said, “You’re right, Fred. I must begin with a new attitude. See, I called you Fred and not lizard-face. That’s a start, isn’t it? And I apologize to you for all my insults. See how easily that came out? I apologize, and I don’t even have to grit my teeth when I say it.”

Tucker turned to Rollie and Kitty. “I also apologize to you, Rollie, and to you, Kitty. I assumed that Rollie was still the thinking rabbit’s rabbit and not the fighter he’s become. And I assumed that you, Kitty, would be overjoyed to be mine. But you weren’t and I now know how wrong I was.”

Tucker then turned to the crowd around him. “And all of you Arborites and those visiting, I apologize for my rudeness. I won’t bother you anymore. I’m leaving the Arbor to start a new life somewhere else. I don’t think I could live here anymore, not after what you’ve seen today. So, goodbye . . . forever.” And with that, he turned and walked away, his head down, his ears drooping, his nose red and swollen, across the next yard and the next and the next, until he disappeared into the distance.

Ben Rabbit called everyone back to the ceremony at hand, the marriage of Rollie and Kitty. He began again, “Now, is there anyone who thinks this union shouldn’t take place? Speak now, quickly, or be quiet forever.” Short pause and he rushed into the rest of it. “All right, do you, Rollie Rabbit, take Kitty Rabbit to be your mate for life?”

“I do, I do!” said Rollie.

“And do you, Kitty Rabbit, take Rollie Rabbit to be your mate for life?”

“I do, I do!” said Kitty.

“Good! I now pronounce you two to be mated for life. You may now touch noses.”

Rollie and Kitty, with eyes shyly downcast, touched, rubbed, noses, and then both broke into smiles that could light a starless night. The crowd cheered with all those assorted sounds that only a crowd in the Arbor could make. Fred, pulling his reflecting glass behind him, gave his congratulations to his Arbor friend and his quest friend and then hurried off to replace his glass on the floor of his house. Dusty, Squeakie, and Fara from the patio meowed their congratulations to their rabbit friends. And Buzz and Millie hovered and fluttered down to kiss the two newlyweds on the foreheads and tell them how happy they were for them. And all the Arborites and the visitors began slowly to make their way out of the yard and back to the business of life.

Life in the Arbor settled back in its normal flow. Ben and Sara and Polly went back to the burrow, Dusty and Squeakie and Fara went back into the house with their pets, Gabby and Greta Grackle returned to the golf course to see what they could steal, and Dan and Dora Dove continued their lovey dovey bill-and-cooing. Buzz whistled off to find an open sugarwater feeder. Fred was already home admiring himself in his reflecting glass, thinking about his dinner of fire ants and arborvitae blossoms.

Millie fluttered down to perch on a low branch near Rollie and Kitty. She called them to her. “I hope you two have a happy life together. I enjoyed our trip to the Great Out There, Rollie, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But something is calling me home. I just have to return to the place where I was born. I’ve already told Fred and Buzz and now I’m telling you. This is goodbye. I may never see you again, but I’ll always remember you.” She flew down to sit on Rollie nose. Then she touched her nose to his, then to Kitty where she did the same.

“Goodbye, my friends, goodbye. Think of me when you next see a gathering of monarchs in your tree. I won’t be among them but my spirit will be.” Then she flew off to the north, fluttering and flapping up and up, finally disappearing into the distance.

Rollie and Kitty watched her until she was gone, waving and waving until there was no longer anyone to wave to. Then they were left alone to consider their new lives together. It was still early afternoon, but nothing said they couldn’t dance in the middle of the day.

Rollie bowed to Kitty, Kitty curtseyed to Rollie. And they danced. They crouched and gazed at each other, then Rollie leaped in the air and Kitty dashed beneath him. Then she turned and they faced one another again. Then Kitty leaped and Rollie dashed beneath her. One round of dance was enough. They rubbed noses and then Rollie sang to his new bride:

“Life in the Arbor / Is good, so grand, / And now I understand why. / / My Kitty is with me, / I have all that I need. / I feel I’m in heaven on high.”

Rollie thought he could hear a chorus of voices supporting him, a chorus of voices from the Arbor, singing along with him. But it may have been only his imagination, for he was a most imaginative rabbit. He and his imaginary chorus concluded:

“There is no safer harbor / Than life in the Arbor / For Kitty, my Kitty and me!”

Arbor - Chapter 15

Chapter 15 – Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

It took them nearly two weeks to make their way back to the opening in the wall. Two weeks of steady marching and flying. Buzz and Millie flew ahead of them and then returned to report on their progress. They had no new adventures, no close calls, no owls or hawks or foxes or coyotes or snakes to combat. Just the steady movement of their feet and wings as they continued back over now familiar ground.

They noted the spot where Black Jack had fought Pepe, the stinky one. Their noses told them he had left his peculiar aroma behind, and they all wondered how long the smell would remain. Maybe forever to mark the spot where he had been so thoroughly defeated at the feet of Black Jack.

They saw again the spot where Fara had fought Red, the Harris hawk. The shattered branches of the sage bush were as they had left them, evidence of the close call Rollie had with the terrible claws of the hawk. They came to the spot where Fara had caught her foot in the chicken wire, but there no longer was any chicken wire there. It must have been swept away in the flood, to come to rest further downstream, there to entrap some other unsuspecting creature.

And finally they came to the slope that led them up to the highway along the outer wall of the city. They climbed the slope and waited for all traffic to pass, then hurried across the highway to the opening into the city. Rollie could feel the weight of their journey pass from him. He could feel the excitement of the return, back to the relative safety of the city, back to the land of tasty orange and grapefruit trees, the berries of arborvitae, the magic fountains. Back to his parents and his sister and the many friends he had there in the Arbor. Even Tucker would look good. Well, maybe not good, but at least familiar.

It was a band of travelers only a little bedraggled by their trip who scurried and flew across the road that fronted the house that was their destination. Home again. The Arbor.

The sun was just setting in the west, and the sky above the tall arborvitae was streaked with light, shallow strips of cloud now made golden in the dying light, pink and red near the horizon, purple as the light receded to the east, the light flickering through the arborvitae branches. They rounded the corner of the house and there were Dusty and Squeakie sitting on their cat perch near the screen.

“Look who we have here,” Dusty said. “Do my eyes deceive me or are there more of you returning than there were when you left? And who is this lovely creature?” he said, staring into the eyes of Fara.

Fara stared back at him and said, “My name is Fara. And you?” she asked, arching her brows and swishing her tail.

“I’m Dusty and this is my little friend Squeakie. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Fara. We don’t get to meet many cats, since our pets keep us indoors all the time. Yes, it’s truly a pleasure to meet you.” Dusty is flirting with me, Fara thought. I’ve never known anyone to flirt with me. In fact, I’ve never known any other cat in my life. She came nearer to the two cats above her and then sat down.

“Rollie, you have to tell us all about your trip. Did you find what you were looking for?”

“We had many adventures and many close calls, but now we’re back and not too bruised and battered. But I think I’d rather gather all the folks in the arbor to hear about it. Let us get ourselves settled back in and then we’ll have a gathering in an hour.”

Buzz and Millie flew off to find a comfortable perch in the large orange tree. Fred scuttled off to his home under the first arborvitae tree. Rollie and Kitty went to meet Rollie’s parents and his sister. And Fara remained sitting below Dusty and Squeakie. Just then the humans came out to see what all the noise was about. Dusty looked at them and meowed pitifully and then turned his head back to Fara. The humans came to see what he was looking at. And Fara meowed pitifully.

“Oh, look, Honey. What a cute little cat. But what is she doing out there? Cats are supposed to be in a house so no bad coyote or hawk or owl will get them. I wonder if she’s lost or if she’s one of the wild ones we hear about.”

Dusty meowled even more pitifully and Squeakie joined him. Fara answered with her own version of pitiful.

The two humans conferred and apparently decided they could always take in another cat. They came out in the gravel yard and slowly approached Fara. Fara wasn’t about to be frightened off and came toward them, her tail moving slowly and her mouth meowing softly, then purring contentedly when the lady human picked her up. “Isn’t she sweet, Honey? Do you think Dusty and Squeakie will accept her? I hope so.”

They carried her into the patio and put her down and the three cats met nose to nose to nose. Accept her? thought Dusty. We welcome her. The two cats led their new friend into the house and down the hall to the food and water dishes. At first, Fara didn’t know if she should eat anything, but Dusty assured her it was all right.

“I think I’m going to like living here, Dusty. I’ve been living out in the wild all my life and this looks a lot better than that.”

“Wait till you see all the toys we have,” Squeakie squeaked. “Come on, we’ll show you.” And off they went.

* * *

Lurking deep in the shadows under the arborvitae branches, Tucker watched the travelers as they arrived. He had hoped and hoped that he would never have to see Rollie ever again, but there he was. With him, however, was a lovely young rabbit lady he’d never seen before. He could hardly wait to show her his big muscles, his handsome face. It wouldn’t take him long to sweep her off her pretty little feet. He watched Fred as he scurried off to his house under the first arborvitae tree. Won’t he be surprised, thought Tucker.

He watched the cat who had arrived with the group of travelers as she was taken into the house. His eyes followed Rollie and the young lady as they went to the burrow of Rollie’s parents. He could sense that Rollie would be his competition for the hand of the young lady. Well, not to worry. Rollie the Runt was no competition for him.

Just then Fred burst from the shadows of the Arbor, scuttling along as fast as his little lizard feet would carry him. “Rollie!” he shouted. “Rollie! It’s gone! It’s gone! Someone has taken my reflecting glass!” He was going so fast he didn’t even stop to do any pushups. Rollie and Kitty met him near the orange tree.

“Whoa now, Fred! Just slow down and tell us what happened.”

“I, I, I, I went into my home and I couldn’t see myself. I wasn’t there. At first I didn’t know what was wrong. I thought maybe I’d just been gone too long and didn’t remember what my life here was like. But then I looked down and my floor was just dark dirt. Who would have done such a thing? Who?” Then he turned and looked into the arborvitae branches and saw Tucker there. “You!” he screamed. “You, you, you would do such a thing! You’ve always wanted my reflecting glass, haven’t you? What did you do with it? Where is it? Give it back to me, you sneaking thief you!” Fred was panting he was so mad and so out of breath from shouting.

Tucker slowly made his way out of the shadows to stand before Fred, folding his arms and raising his chin, looking down on the lizard. “I’m not a thief. I just thought I’d borrow your little reflecting glass while you were away. Actually, I was taking care of it for you, and in case you never did come back, it would be in good hands.”

“Well, I want it back. Right now!” Fred growled.

“I’ll get it back to you when I get around to it, little leather face. Right now I want to meet this young lady. My name is Tucker, Tucker Rabbit, and I’m pretty much the one in charge around here.”

Rollie made a face of total disgust, but he didn’t say anything to Tucker, much as he wanted to. Tucker stood there posing with his arms out to his side so Kitty could see his broad shoulders. And his smile was as false as a cheap toupee. Fred stood off to the side grumbling, his little eyes rolling around like marbles in a cup.

By this time, many of the folks of the Arbor had gathered, having heard that Rollie was going to tell them about their quest. There were quail families with tiny walnut babies and others with adolescents and others with teeners, and they were all chattering as only quail can chatter. Dan and Dora Dove were there with many of their dove friends. One of them, Daffy Dove, came weaving over along the ground, like he didn’t know what was up and what was down. He had just taken a header into the north window of the house, thinking it was a nice dark tunnel he could zoom through. He wasn’t the brightest light in the forest before he did it, but now he was really dim. A dozen grackles were squawking about, and Greta and Gabby flew in to join them. Gabby had a package of crackers in his beak, stolen just moments before from a generous golfer’s cart. He and Greta held it down on the ground between them and then went to work on the packaging. Soon they had it open and were immediately surrounded by other grackles chattering and pleading to share the prize. Harvey and Hilda Javalina and their little son Pinky showed up to hear how the quest had gone. And soon there were pigeons and hummingbirds and sparrows everywhere. Even Packy Rat was standing at the back of the crowd, and Packy was the most anti-social critter in the Arbor. Dusty and Squeakie and Fara were out on the back patio, sitting side by side by side on the cat perches.

It was a fine audience and Rollie felt proud to address them. He walked to the center of the crowd and raised his arm to quiet them down. The last to settle down were the quails and grackles, the two Arborite groups who always had the most to say even though they didn’t make much sense. Finally, though, silence descended on the Arbor.

“We went out to the Great Out There and had many adventures. And we met a few friends along the way. We met Fara, who saved my life twice. She is over there with Dusty and Squeakie.” Everyone turned and looked at her and then there was a rising sound of squawking and squeaking and cawing and grunting and squealing and chirping and whistling. Fara smiled and looked down in embarrassment. When the cheering died down, Rollie continued.

“And we met a giant warrior of a rabbit named Black Jack, who saved all our lives from a fox by the name of Pepe Vulpine. Black Jack couldn’t return with us but we will never forget him. We met a snake named Cecil, who would have had Fara for dinner, and I don’t mean he invited her to share a meal with him.” There was a smattering of laughter throughout the throng. “And we nearly all got washed away in a storm and a flood. That is where we met Kitty Rabbit, who was busy holding on to a boulder in the middle of the stream. Together, she and I made it back to shore and safety. We walked for many days to the south, each day expecting to find the place I was looking for, the better place.” Rollie paused for a long moment, looking down at the ground. Then he continued, “And, strangely enough, the place we were looking for . . . we found at the end of our journey. And that place is . . . here in the Arbor! This is the answer to the question, the treasure at the end of our quest. There is no better place for us to be than here in the Arbor.” The sounds from those in the audience were slow to start, but then the sounds of squawks, squeaks, caws, grunts, squeals, chirps, and whistles grew and grew. It was so loud even the humans came out to see what was going on. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the congregation of animals in their backyard. And there in the middle was a handsome rabbit. They just stood there enchanted by this enchanting moment.

Rollie went on, ignoring the humans on the patio. “We should all be very thankful for the bounty trees and the magic fountains and the safety we all enjoy here in the Arbor. And now that night is falling, we should all retire and wake up to a new day tomorrow. Thank you.”

More applause from the audience and then they all began to make their way home. Dusty and Squeakie and Fara went in the house with their pets, and the darkness of early evening was filled with the sounds of quail fluttering up into their roosts among the arborvitae branches, the sounds of doves coo-cooing before they too fluttered up into the branches of the orange and grapefruit trees. Harvey and Hilda and Pinky waddled off to find some tasty prickly pear for dinner. All the grackles flew away to see if they could find some scraps left by the golfers on the nearby golf course. Packy Rat slunk back to his hole near the south wall. And Fred, still grumbling, told Tucker he would see him in the morning and he’d better have his reflecting glass with him when he saw him. Tucker harumphed and said he would be there, but not necessarily with the glass. And Rollie and Kitty went to his parents’ burrow, where Kitty would be able to sleep in the comfort of their spare room. Tomorrow would be a new day.

Friday, April 8

Arbor - Chapter 14

Chapter 14 – The Storm

Black Jack stayed with them the next day, saying he had nothing better to do than accompany them on their journey, at least for a few days. “Would you like to learn a few of my tricks, Rollie? It would honor me to serve as your instructor, just as Mr. Arigato did for me.”

Rollie agreed, and as they made their slow way up the streambed, always looking for that something better, each morning Black Jack would instruct Rollie in the ways of spins and dips and twirls. Rollie caught on quickly, for he was an exceptional rabbit. He could feel his legs grow stronger and stronger. Fred and Buzz and Millie and Fara would sit and watch the gyrations patiently.

Finally, one morning several weeks after Black Jack had joined them, he said to Rollie, “I think you now have all I can teach you. It’s time for me to head back. I’ve enjoyed your company and I will miss all of you. Goodbye, Rollie. Goodbye, Miss Fara and Miss Millie. Goodbye, Fred and Buzz. I couldn’t have asked to find better friends than you have been. And good luck on your quest. I hope you really do find that better place you talk about, Rollie. It must be out there somewhere.”

And then he left them, stopping for a moment on top of the slope leading up from the stream. He was a black silhouette against the sky. He waved to them and they waved back. And then he was gone in a bound and a leap, with an “Aheeee Yah!”

“I’m going to miss Black Jack,” Millie said as she fluttered overhead. “Yeah, me too,” said Buzz.

“Yeah, me three,” said Fred as he scuttled along beside Rollie. “Hey, Rollie, when do you think you’ll decide to turn around and go back? This stuff out here looks just the same except for maybe more loose garbage blowing around. I don’t think we’re going to find anything different up ahead.”

Rollie sighed and didn’t say anything. He silently agreed, though. This wasn’t what he’d expected when they began their journey. Maybe one more day and if they didn’t find anything better, they’d turn around and go back. Defeated.

The sky in late afternoon began to churn with high clouds, big black thunderclouds that kept creeping toward them from the north. And then the clouds caught them. Lightning streaked like angry trees, followed by the distant thuds of thunder. It became so dark the sun was blotted out and then the wind began to blow, first as gusts that rustled the mesquite and fanned the prairie grass. But then it became nearly constant and the prairie grass was flattened to the ground. Even the saguaros seemed to bend with the wind. The rain began as cold bullets that struck the ground, leaving large rain prints in the dry soil. Then more and more until it was a nearly solid sheet of rain that blew at them sideways. Rollie and Fred and Fara found shelter under a rocky shelf near the side of the streambed. Buzz and Millie joined them there. They sat and watched the rain pour down, the lightning flash and streak as it lit the sky, angry fingers touching down along the horizon to the north. And the thunder was now almost continuous explosions of sound, no longer distant and subdued but nearly instantly behind a lightning strike.

Rollie thought he heard his heart going “Thump-er! Thump-er! Thump-er!” No, he decided, it was more like “Ka-Thump! Ka-thump! Ka-thump!” “Thumper” was the name of that character his mother used told him about when he was little, Bambi’s rabbit friend.

They could hear it before it got to them, the sound of surging water, water rushing down the streambed from the north. They all scrambled and flew out of their shelter and went higher up the bank. And then the water went by them, a rushing, rolling, angry wave of brown water that bit and chewed at the sides of the bank below.

“Help!” A cry from somewhere.

“Help! Oh, help! I don’t think I can hang on much longer!”

In the dim light with rain streaming by, making it hard to see, Rollie could just make out the figure of a rabbit in the middle of the water’s rush, hanging on to a boulder that stuck up above the surface. The water was gushing around the creature, and its ears were down around its face. Rollie decided without really thinking about it. He ran to the water’s edge, seeing the rabbit much better now. “Hang on! Hang on! I’m coming!” he hollered. Then he ran upstream to where he decided it would give him enough room to swim out to the boulder, the water moving him along swiftly.

He leaped in and began paddling with his arms and his powerful legs, letting the stream carry him down. But he made enough headway sideways that he came speeding along directly behind the rabbit and her life-saving boulder. They came together with a wet rabbity splat. But Rollie held on to the boulder and held on to the rabbit. And there they were.

The rabbit turned to face Rollie, water streaming from her drooping ears, and said, “What a courageous thing for you to do. But now there are two of us in the middle of this ocean of water. Now, who will save the two of us?”

Although the rabbit’s fur was soaking wet and its ears were down around its face, Rollie could tell this was a girl rabbit. Mostly he knew it by the wonderful light in her eyes. She was soaking wet, but she was beautiful.

“My name is Rollie, Rollie Rabbit, and I’m still not sure what we’re going to do to save the two of us. But I’ll think of something. And what is your name, young lady?” He couldn’t help but smile at her, despite the dangerous circumstances they found themselves in.

“My name is Kitty” she said, pushing both ears up and out of her face. She noticed the look on Rollie’s face and continued, “I know, I know, that’s not really a proper name for a rabbit, but my mother told me about the time when she was a little rabbit, and an owl swooped down to carry her away. But just at the last moment, a cat came charging in at the owl and scared him away. My mother said the cat’s name was Fara. She thanked her and thanked her but the cat simply said ‘You’re welcome,’ and then went on her way. And when I was born, mother said she just had to name me Fara. But father objected so loudly that they compromised by calling me Kitty.”

Rollie was smitten. He didn’t care if her name was Kitty or Grumpagrizzledo, or even Madonna. She was the loveliest thing he’d ever seen. “You’ll be pleased to know, if we ever get out of this pickle safe and sound, that the very cat you just mentioned is over there on the side of the stream, waiting to see how we’re going to get out of here.”

He pointed to Fara and Fara waved to them. Kitty said, “Oh, how I hope I’ll get to meet her, to thank her again for saving my mother’s life.”

Rollie decided they had only two chances to save themselves—either to hang on until the water went down (but he wasn’t sure that was a very good plan since it might be hours and hours or even days and days before the water went down) or to leap back into the stream and swim as hard as they could and hope they washed up on the shore.

He told her what they had to do. Kitty shivered at the thought of going back into that dangerous current, but she trusted her new friend’s judgment. When he said Go, they went. Back into that dangerous current. Rollie felt the stream tug at them, rushing them down and down, trying its very best to take them under its wing of water. He had one arm around Kitty and with his other arm and his powerful legs he swam and swam as hard as he could toward the shore. The water kept gushing into his mouth and eyes and ears, just as it did with Kitty. But he kicked his legs and kicked his legs until finally he could feel solid ground beneath him. He looked up and there was Fara extending an arm to him. He grabbed her and somehow stumbled up the side of the stream, dragging Kitty along with him, hanging on to Fara, then to fall on his face in the mud. They had escaped from the water’s grip, muddy and wet and exhausted. But safe. Kitty crawled to his side, pushed him off his face and onto his back, and said, “Are you all right, my new friend Rollie? Are you all right? Oh, please say you’re all right!”

Rollie opened one muddy eye and then the other. He saw the concern on Kitty’s face and he felt his heart fall even harder—Ka-thump! Ka-thump! She was soaking wet and shivering and muddy and ear-droopy, but she was still beautiful in his eyes. “Yes, I seem to be all in one piece.” He wanted to say to her that he may need nose-to-nose resuscitation, but he didn’t know what that meant. The words came to him in a flash of perception. He did like the idea of nose-to-nose, though.

He looked at Fara who was crouched over them. “Fara, I’d like to introduce you to someone who has a connection to you. It seems that you’re responsible not only for helping save her here but also even before she was born. This is Kitty, and she has a story to tell you. Kitty, this is Fara.”

Kitty bowed to her savior and extended her hand. Fara took it and they held hands for a moment.

“Come, you two, come up beneath this sage bush and out of the wind and rain. You can tell me your story there, Kitty.”

By the time they got to the bush the wind had died and the rain was now only occasional splatters in the mud. The stream continued flowing, scowling at them, Rollie thought, because they had escaped its grip. Buzz and Millie and Fred were introduced to Kitty. Then Kitty told Fara her story about the time this brave cat had taken on an owl and driven him away from her mother. When she was finished, the two sat and looked at each other. Then they hugged, both with tears in their eyes. Even Fred wiped a leathery arm across his eyes and mumbled something about his allergies.

Rollie decided right then that his quest was now over. The river had convinced him. He felt bad that they were giving up, but he felt glad that he’d found at least one treasure on this trip, and the treasure was Kitty.

They would spend the night where they were and in the morning begin the long trip home. Home. The Arbor.

Thursday, April 7

Arbor - Chapter 13

They saw him silhouetted on the ridge to the east, the early morning light behind him. He was bounding around like a crazy person, leaping in the air, tumbling to the ground and then kicking out at empty air, up again, and spinning dizzily with one leg thrust out in front of him. “What do you suppose that’s all about?” Fara asked.

“I don’t even know what he is. And I certainly don’t know what he’s doing,” replied Rollie.

For several hours before dawn, the travelers had been trudging along the meandering valley streambed. But now there was enough light to see the figure on the horizon. They knew it was some kind of creature, but no creature any of them had ever seen before. Other than a certain craziness, the creature didn’t seem to be any of the ones they had to fear. They continued up the streambed, but kept a wary eye on the crazy one. When they were near enough to see what he was, the creature also saw them and stopped his acrobatics. He stood still, watching them. Then he leaped to his feet and came bounding down the slope toward them. The travelers all stopped and watched him skid to a stop in front of them. It was a rabbit of some kind, but not the kind Rollie had ever seen before. Nor Fred. Nor Fara. Nor Buzz nor Millie.

He was about twice as tall as Rollie, with ears that stood high high above his head. And his feet were huge. The creature would have made Tucker look like a midget.

He stood before them, his eyes taking them all in, his nose twitching, twitching. Then, “If you’re not a sorry lot. I’ve seen better looking corpses out here in the desert.” He shook his head and chuckled at them. “My name is Black, Black Jack, and what would be the names of you one, two, three, four, five?”

They all looked at each other, confused by this strange looking, strange speaking rabbit. Then Rollie said, “Well, I’m known as Rollie, and this young lady is called Fara, and my crotchety friend here is Fred. The two you see on the mesquite branch are Buzz and Millie.”

“Fine names, fine names. And a fine looking band you are. What exactly brings you out here in this wilderness? Are you lost and in need of directions?”

“No, no,” Rollie hastened to say. “We’re on a quest to find a better place to live than the one we now have. And so far, we haven’t seen anything better. But we just know there must be such a place just down the road, or streambed, or over the next hill.”

“Hmm,” the rabbit said. “Hmm, I don’t know where you began this journey but I’ve lived out here most of my life and there isn’t much in front of you that’s any different from what’s behind you—sage, sometimes green or gray and dusty, sometimes in purple bloom, tired saguaros standing like skeletons to provide homes for cactus wrens and grackles and starlings, mesquite and ragweed and chuckawallabush and prickly pears.”

“We saw you up on top of the slope and didn’t quite understand what you were doing. What were you doing?” Rollie asked.

“Oh, that was my ninja warmup. I do that to get the old muscles moving and the blood warmed up.”

“Your ninja warmup? What’s that?” Rollie asked.

“It’s how I manage to live out here. It’s my hedge against those who are bigger and meaner than I am.”

“I don’t think I understand.”

“Let me tell you a story. Then you’ll understand.”

This is Black Jack’s story in his very own words:

When I was just a little thing, about your size now, Rollie, I was always afraid of everything and everyone I met. And I didn’t like living here in the desert. And my parents wouldn’t let me do anything. They just didn’t understand me. So one day, I ran away from home. I traveled far to the east and I survived on my wits and not my strength.

One day, I smelled something that smelled really good, like carrots and peas and clover blossoms, all mixed together. I moved closer and closer to that wonderful smell, and just when I could see it and nearly taste it, a steel door came crashing down right behind me. And when I tried to run, I found out I was in a cage, a steel cage with no way out and no carrots and peas and clover blossoms.

A human came and carried me away, cage and all. But still no carrots and peas and clover blossoms. Just a trip to a place where they put me in a big room with other creatures—cats and dogs and rabbits and hamsters and ferrets and rats. And that’s where we all were kept, in cages. Oh, they fed us all right. But never carrots and peas and clover blossoms.

One day, a human came in and looked at me and looked at me. He was dressed all in black, with a black top hat and a black vest under a black suit. He had a long face with a silky black mustache and eyes that were black and hard as stones and they seemed to hypnotize me. I tried not to look at him but he wouldn’t let me look away.

He said to the human who kept us, “I’ll take him!”

And take me he did. He took me to a place with canvas houses and lights that were on all night, flashing and blinking in reds and greens and blues. And there was music and strange machines that twirled and spun and went up and down. And people everywhere screaming and laughing. He took me into one of the canvas houses and put me down on the ground, still in my cage. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Hello, Mr. Rabbit. I hope you like your new home. You will be my assistant. You will do exactly as I tell you or you will end up in a rabbit stew. Now, which would you rather be? My assistant or a tasty rabbit stew?”

I didn’t think that was a very good choice, so I nodded my head. I would be his assistant. But I didn’t know what I’d be assisting him with. I found out later.

That night, when the sun was down and the lights of red and green and blue were brightest, he took me with him and put me in a hole somewhere, a black and scary hole at that. I sat there shivering and then I heard him shout, “Abra Cadabra!” and I felt him grab me by the ears and pull me out of that hole. The lights were so bright I could hardly see where I was. Then I heard humans screaming and clapping their hands. They were out in the dark where I could barely see them. The human in black bowed and held me up before the crowd and then he popped me back in the hole. Only now I knew it was into a tall black top hat on a table. And there was a hole in the bottom of the top hat, and I fell back into that hole from which he’d pulled me. I didn’t care very much for that place. I sat there and shivered and after a time, I heard the humans clapping and shouting again. Then I felt him take me by the ears and carry me back to my cage. Still no carrots and peas and clover blossoms, just a dry crunchy something that tasted like mesquite chips.

He looked me in the eye and he smiled the slipperiest smile you could imagine and said, “You did very well tonight, my little rabbit assistant. And you will do well to do well every night from now on. Do you understand me, little rabbit?”

I nodded my head. But inside my body I shivered and I shook and I very much wanted to go back home to live with my parents and my sisters and brothers who never made me feel the way this human made me feel.

I was there with him for a long time, assisting him with his tall top hat, listening to the humans clap and shout at him. He even allowed me to roam away from my cage, knowing probably that I wouldn’t run away. I knew how to run but I didn’t know where to run. I ate well and the work wasn’t difficult. So I stayed.

One day, a human dressed not at all like my human came into our canvas house and looked at me. He was dressed in a white garment like silk pajamas that were tied around his middle with a black silk binding. And his feet were bare. With both hands together before him, he bowed to me and then stood erect.

He said, “Good morning, mister rabbit. And how are you today? My name is Domo Arigato and I live several tents away. I specialize in an act involving volunteers from the audience to come into a ring with me, to see if they can stay there for a full three minutes. None ever do. But it is a silly thing for me to be doing. Once I was a proud ninja warrior in a country far far away but somehow I was brought here to perform like a trained seal. I have been doing it for too long but have no other place to go to use my skills. So I stay.

“I have seen you with The Great Gasparini, helping him with his act. I could not help but notice your powerful legs. I come here today to ask if you would be my student. I have missed my teaching. Now I only perform silly things in front of silly people. I have asked The Great Gasparini if he would allow it and he said he didn’t care what you did when you weren’t working. Do you wish to study with me, to learn the art of judo and jujitsu, of karate and tae kwondo? They are noble arts and you would enjoy the discipline they involve. What say you, mister rabbit. Just nod if you agree.”

I nodded. I didn’t know exactly what it was I was going to learn, but I was willing to learn anything. Anything would be better than the dull life I was leading as a top hat rabbit.

For the next two weeks, Mister Arigato and I trained early in the morning, before anyone else was up. We trained on the dirt floor near my cage. First, he showed me how to do starting exercises—stretching, balancing on one foot and then the other, slow spins and hops. Then he began showing me moves to disable an opponent, like stripping his feet from under him by spinning sideways close to the ground and kicking at his legs. Or the jump and hop and spin and kick to the chest or chin. He told me that many moves involve using the hands and arms but that mine were too small and weak. But he said my feet and legs were my true weapons. They were large and strong. Some moves, he said, were not allowed in the honorable systems of self-defense. He would not show me those because he didn’t want me to dishonor his teaching. He presented me with a white sash made of the same material as the black sash he wore. He tied it around my middle and patted me on the head and said I was now a white belt beginner in the martial arts. I looked down and touched my sash. I felt very proud that he was proud of me.

Finally, after nearly a month, he said I was proficient enough that he didn’t need to teach me anymore. That I had now earned a brown belt to replace my belt of white. And he gave it to me and tied it around my middle. I looked down and touched my new sash and felt so proud I thought I would burst.

My life fell into a terrible routine. I worked for Mr. Gasparini and I practiced and I worked for Mr. Gasparini and I practiced, and then I worked some more for Mr. Gasparini and then I practiced some more. Life was not very exciting for me.

One night, at the performance of The Great Gasparini, I was in the hat and I heard him shout, “Abra Cadabra!” and he reached in the hat and grabbed me by the ears and he lifted up the hat and me together. I seemed to be stuck and he couldn’t free me and the people in the audience all began to laugh at him. He was very angry.

He put the hat and me back on the table, but not very gently, and then he tried to continue with his act, but the audience all laughed and booed and many got up and left. Oh my, was the Great Gasparini angry. His face was like a tomato, a huge, round, very ripe tomato, and his little black mustache wiggled up and down as his nose twitched back and forth. When everyone was gone, he grabbed the hat and he grabbed my ears and he tugged me out and in doing so he tore the brim right off the hat. But he got me out and he held me by my ears in front of his red red face and he snarled, “You’ve grown too big to be any use to me! I can’t use a rabbit whose ears and feet are as big as a baby kangaroo’s! Go! Go! Get out of my sight!”

And that’s just what I did. I found Mr. Arigato and thanked him for his kindness and training. He said he would miss me. He also told me never ever to dishonor my training and the belt I had earned. I told him I would never dishonor him and would never forget him. I waved goodbye and he waved back. I left that place of canvas houses and bright lights and I found my way back out to the desert where I belonged. I never found my former home, however, and I never again saw my parents or my brothers and sisters. I miss them, but I’m now I’m a full-grown jack rabbit and have learned to live by myself.

Thus ended Black Jack’s story.

Rollie and the others had remained motionless all through the story. They were all excited by his tales of that other place, of canvas houses and bright lights. But they didn’t think much of being caught in cages. No, even Rollie could see that wasn’t the good place he was looking for. Fara turned her head and sniffed the air and said, “Ooooo, what’s that smell? It smells even worse than skunk and you all know how bad a skunk smells. But what is that?”

Just then a fox came loping down the slope toward them. He was zigging and zagging as he came, and he shouted, “Ooowee! Here I come and I’m about to dine on rabbit or cat or lizard, or maybe all three. Ooowee!” Black Jack stood where he was and just as the fox leaped toward him, he spun in the air and threw out a powerful jackrabbit leg and shouted, “Aheeee Yah!” and his foot went thud into the fox’s chest and sent him tumbling up in the air and down to the ground in a puff of dust. The fox lay there panting, unable to get up, and Jack stood over him and said, “Now, what was that you were saying, Mister Fox? I’d like to hear it again. Something about rabbit or cat or lizard for your dinner? Was that it?” The smell was even stronger now that the fox was there among them. “Don’t you ever take a bath, Mister Fox? Is that why you stink so much?”

Finally, the fox got his wind back and pulled himself slowly, painfully, to his feet. “You, you caught me off guard with your cowardly kick to my chest. You would not be able to do that again. My name is Pepe Vulpine, that is three syllables, Vul-pee-nay. And I do not stink. It is you who smell bad to me.” He began to circle away from Black Jack and get some distance between them. “And now I am going to have that dinner!” he shouted and dashed again at Jack. This time, Jack fell to the ground and kicked the feet right out from under Pepe Vul-pee-nay, and the fox went sliding headfirst through the dust and right into a nearby prickly pear.

“Owwww! Oh now see what you have done! My nose, my poor nose is full of prickly pear prickles!” He pawed at his nose but couldn’t get any of the tiny spears out. “Oh, oh, oh, I will never be able to look any of my foxy lady friends in the face, ever again. This is the end of me.”

“If you promise not to try anything else against us, I’ll help you with your prickly pear problem,” Fara said. “Even though I can barely tolerate your smell. I guess I’ll just have to close by dose and breathe through by bouth while I do it. Dow hold still.”

She moved cautiously to the stricken fox and one by one, she opened her mouth and bit down on each sticker and pulled them out of his nose. One, two, three, four, five, six stickers. When she was done she spit into the sand and backed hurriedly away. “Oh, whew!” she said, breathing through her nose again. “Now that was something I never thought I’d ever do. And I’ll never do it again. Mr. Pepe Vulpine, you should be thankful we’re not as mean and vicious as some people I could name. Now you should just tuck your tail between your legs and go back to wherever you came from. And you can take your smell with you.”

The fox licked his paw and then rubbed his nose and looked at the six of them. And slunk slowly away, his tail very much between his legs, up the slope and over the crest and was gone. But his foxy stink lingered on.

Wednesday, April 6

Arbor - Chapter 12

Chapter 12 – Red Harris Hawk

Red was taking a break from his normal territory, gliding and turning on the thermals outside the city. He normally hunted with his parents and one sibling, but today he thought he’d go out on his own. He was hunting, yes, but with only one hawkish eye on the ground below, the other on the clouds above. You might think this would make him a bit cross-eyed, but the eye on the clouds was his mind’s eye, where his imagination allowed him to play with the joy of the flight, the swoop of the dive, the rapid ascent. Oh, the thrill and beauty of hawk flight, he thought.

Harris hawks are a beautiful bird with heavy bodies and full wings to support that body—dark reddish brown on the back with a flash of white in the tail and a white to tan underbody, large thick talons and a beak for tearing prey. They are formidable birds of prey. And the most unusual thing about them, they are one of the few hawks that hunt cooperatively. Often, you might see one perched on a rooftop, another on the next rooftop, and one or two on the ground trying to flush rabbits or rodents or lizards for the others to dive upon. It was a most successful method for hunting.

Today, however, Red was less inclined to hunt than to enjoy the flying. He loved to soar on flapless wings high above the city and surrounding territories, turning in slow revolutions, first up, then down, and around and around. His eyes never failed to scan the earth below, though. The joy of flying was one thing but food on the table was another. It was early in the afternoon when he spotted movement below. A rabbit, a small lizard, and a scruffy-looking cat, all trudging southeast along the dry streambed that moved from the mountains in the north down through the valley, cutting a tired, parched swath between this retirement city and the one to the east of it.

Well, now, he thought, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. With that thought, he folded his wings and went into the killing dive. Down and down like a mortar shell, faster and faster, a dark arrow which grew larger and larger as he approached. The rabbit was his target. Rollie was totally unaware of the danger about to strike from out of the brilliant sky above him. He was tired from their long hike and at that moment decided to rest beneath a small sage bush. Fara and Fred were about to join him when they first saw a dark streak right next to them, then a loud whomp of sage branches breaking. Red had crashed into the sage and was now holding Rollie with talons that couldn’t quite grip him because of the sage leaves and branches between them. But he had Rollie trapped between his legs even though he couldn’t get his beak anywhere near the rabbit.

Suddenly, Red heard a shriek of anger, a loud hiss, and then he felt Fara as she landed on his back with all four legs extended, all twenty toes with all twenty claws out and sinking through Red’s body feathers.

“Oh, no, you don’t, Mr. Bird! You will not hurt my new friend! You will leave him alone or I will stay on your back forever! You’ll be known as the hawk with the cat on his back!” She continued hissing as she clamped down with her claws. And anyone who has ever felt a cat when that cat wants to sink her claws into a hand or a leg knows just what it feels like. It doesn’t feel good.

Red flapped his wings in an effort to dislodge the cat. He released his taloned feet from around Rollie and fell backwards out of the sage bush. But Fara would not be brushed off. Red rolled around on the ground but still she held on. Then a tiny bullet whistled into Red’s vision. Then he felt a tiny peck on his head. He tried to see what new annoyance he had to deal with. Then there was a whizzing around and around his head. From his last encounter with the tiny irritating hummingbird, he remembered what that experience was like.

Dizzy and dusty and frustrated, he shrieked, “All right! All right! Just let go of me and I’ll be on my way! I certainly wouldn’t want you attached to my body for the rest of my days. What would the other Harris hawks think?”

“How can I trust you not to turn on us when I let go of you?” Fara asked. “Hawks are not known as the most trustworthy of creatures.”

Rollie and Fred, along with Buzz and Millie, were now safely gathered into the depths of a larger sage bush, and they watched in amazement as the two fought.

Red said, “I’m on the ground now and you can run much faster than I can. So it isn’t a matter of trust. You simply win. And I lose. Now, let me go!”

Fara withdrew her claws and leaped from the bird’s back, then dashed to the sage bush to join her new friends.

Red stood, flapped his wings to remove some of the dust and indignity of his failed attempt to get Rollie, threw an angry glance at the bush, and then, with heavy wings, flew off.

“Oh, I hope no one ever hears this story,” he muttered to himself. “It would be just my luck that some blabbermouth turkey buzzard was floating above and saw it all. He looked all around him and saw no buzzards, no hawks, no birds of any kind who might have borne witness to his humiliation. “Enough of flying outside my territory. I’m heading home, where life is a bit easier than out here in the wild.”

* * *

“You were wonderful, Fara,” Millie said to her new friend. “But why did you do that? Why did you jump on that huge bird that could have taken you apart without even batting a hawk’s eye?”

“I did it because I owed Rollie my life. Without him I too would be dead right now. It was the least I could do.”

“I’m certainly glad you were around,” Rollie said as he wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. “That hawk would have had me for breakfast if you hadn’t come to my rescue.”

“But I had to do it. I had no choice. You saved me, and I saved you. Now we’re even. But even if we weren’t even, I’d come to help you no matter what happened. I owe you my life, even though my life before I met you wasn’t worth much.” She looked down, scuffed one scruffy foot in the dust, and then looked back up at Rollie and Fred and Buzz and Millie. “I’ve been alone for as long as I can remember. I don’t know if any of my brothers and sisters are still alive, but I think they probably aren’t. So I treasure this friendship I have with you, even though it hasn’t been for very long. You’re my family. And I’d do anything not to lose one of you.”

“Fara, we feel the same about you.” They all echoed each other, even Fred, who never trusted many creatures that much larger than he was, especially a cat who didn’t look all that well fed to begin with. “We’re glad you joined us to add to our adventures,” Rollie said. “And you can stay with us till the very end, when we find the place we’ve been looking for.”

They continued up the streambed, working their way to the southeast until the afternoon waned, the light in the west turned golden, the shadows lengthened until there were three tall travelers marching along with them, a long tall rabbit, a wide lizard, and a Halloween kitty with long legs and a tail that bobbed and weaved well above the desert landscape.

Tuesday, April 5

Cats & Arbor Chapter 11

And speaking of who's the trainer and who's the trainee, Dusty, my beloved but irritating old pal, has me trained to get up about three or four times a night to feed him. He's deaf so he doesn't hear how loud his meowls and caws are when he gets right next to my ear and lets go. And he won't be ignored. If I try to pretend I didn't hear him, he drools on my head. That's when I get up. It's a response that's now ingrained into my training.

Chapter 11 - Fara the Feral Cat

Fara was a small black and white cat who lived now in the desert east of the city, had lived there for over two years. But she didn’t live well. Life in this arid land was harsh. Days were hot and dry and she often had to travel long distances to find water. What food she had was mainly beetles and small rodents. Occasionally she would find carrion of some unfortunate beast or bird that had died or been killed. But she had to be fast and she had to be willing to drive away circling crows and turkey buzzards. Life was difficult for her.

When she was born, she had five brothers and two sisters, and a mother who fed and cared for them. But when she and her siblings were still only kittens, a human put them in a box and then into a car and took them all into the desert and left them. Left them in the box. Left them there to die.

After crying and struggling for what seemed like hours, the eight of them managed to tip the box over and all eight scampered in eight different directions.

That was over two years ago. In that two years she never again saw any of her brothers or sisters, and she often wondered what had happened to them. She feared that some or all of them had died. She feared nearly as much that all of them had lived and now had a life as miserable and harsh as hers. There were so many creatures to be wary of, so little time to do anything but sleep and search for food and water. And be on a constant lookout for creatures that would have her for dinner—coyotes and hawks and owls and snakes. Often she would awaken in the night, shaking and shivering from a dream of just such an encounter. No, not a dream, a nightmare.

On this morning she was on her way to her watering place, not far from where she slept at night. She lived for the most part in a tiny cavern she had found among some boulders near a dry streambed. Nearby, where other rocks had gathered, she had a place deep beneath the surface that collected and held water from the occasional rain shower or whenever the stream was partly filled with water. But that wasn’t often in this arid land.

She went down the slope to the dry streambed and walked quickly, not wanting to slink for she was too proud to slink like a scaredy cat. But she was careful to cast her eyes right and left and up above to make sure nothing was about to jump on her or swoop down on her. She had been on this same route often during her two years of desert living, and she knew every nook and cranny, every rock and bush and tree. She didn’t, however, notice a small snarl of chicken wire that had washed down the stream some time earlier and then was made nearly invisible by mud and debris. She stepped into the hidden wire and her front foot became caught. Try as hard as she could, she couldn’t free the foot. She snarled in frustration. Then she heard it—the sound of seeds in a dried gourd, a sound she knew and dreaded, the sound of a rattlesnake’s warning. Then she saw it—the reddish brown serpent slithering toward her along the streambed.

“Ahhhh, I sssee you’re having a little trouble, my ssssweet one,” he hissed. “Is there anything I can do to help. I would ssssso like to help you.”

His name was Cecil and he was a red diamondback who lived in the desert near Fara’s hidden grotto. He was larger than any of his fellow snakes in this area, nearly six feet long from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. He had often seen Fara on her trips up and down the stream and he had always thought she would be a tasty treasure for a hungry diamondback. But he was never able to get close enough to her. She would spot him and her tail would swell to three times its normal size. It would point straight up like a flag and she would match him hiss for hiss before running off into the sage. He had just about given up on her. Now she was there, all tangled up and waiting for his kiss.

He moved slowly forward, back and forth in his sinewy serpentine way. Fara twisted and turned and couldn’t free herself. Closer and closer he came. More and more she struggled. “Ss

settle down, my sweet. Sssettle down. This won’t hurt a bit. Just a little kissss on your neck and you won’t feel a thing.”

Cecil was just about to strike when he heard shouting from behind him. He turned and was greeted with the sight of a small rabbit bounding down the bank of the stream, shouting and waving a stick over his head. Behind him, moving much more slowly, came a small lizard.

“Stop! Stop!” Rollie shouted. “I know what you’re up to and I won’t let you do it!”

Cecil turned and coiled, raising his tail above him and rattling it back and forth angrily. “And jusssst how do you plan to ssstop me, Mr. Tiny Rabbit? Do you plan to throw that sssmall ugly lizard at me? I would eat him for a sssnack.”

Rollie slowed and came to a stop just outside the range of the snake’s striking distance. Fred came to a stop well outside the range of the snake’s striking distance. In fact, he stopped well behind his friend Rollie, keeping Rollie between him and the rattling menace.

Fara meowled and hissed in frustration, but she welcomed the sight of her possible saviors. But how, she thought, could a small rabbit and a tiny lizard ever save her from a snake the size of Cecil?

“Be very careful, Mr. Rabbit. This snake is not at all a nice person. I’ll be grateful if you can save me from him somehow, but if you have to flee to save yourselves, I’ll understand.” Fara meowed so brokenheartedly that Rollie knew he couldn’t leave her there.

“We won’t leave you and we won’t be afraid of a big old ssssssisssy like Mr. Snake.” With that, he advanced on the snake in his best fencing form, the walking stick out in front and twirling. Cecil coiled himself even tighter, preparing to strike at this absurd little rabbit. Rollie continued toward him. Cecil struck.

And Rollie’s walking stick slapped him in the head, knocking him to the side.

“SSSSSSS!” Cecil hissed and coiled himself again. And again he struck. And again the walking stick struck him, this time making him dizzy as he fell to the other side. “SSSSSSSSSSSSS! What are you doing, you twerp! Put down that stick and fight me like a snake!”

“And why should I lower myself to your lowly standards, Mr. Ssssnake!” Rollie shouted, coming at Cecil again, the tip of his stick twirling in front of him.

Cecil thought better of coiling himself and getting struck as he had the first two times. Instead, he hissed over his shoulder and sneaked away as fast as his body would take him. “I won’t forget thisssss! And you’d better watch your backssss from now on!” And then he was gone, only his serpentine tracks left behind.

“Here, Miss Kitty, let me help you,” Rollie said as he came up to see exactly how Fara was trapped.

“Oh, thank you, kind rabbit. I was sure I was about to be that snake’s dinner tonight.” She showed him how her foot was caught and between them, his pulling apart the wire and her twisting her foot, they managed to free it. She jumped off the wire and tested her foot to see if it still worked the way it should. It did.

“My name is Fara, and what may I call you, Sir Rabbit?”

Fred, when he saw the snake vanish, had followed Rollie to Fara’s side. He was a bit suspicious of any animal that had the look of a lizard liker. Lizard eater, that is. But this cat seemed to be so grateful for her rescue, he wasn’t too afraid. He stayed, however, carefully behind Rollie.

“I’m called Rollie and this is my friend Fred. And these two”—Buzz and Millie had flown down to join them—“are Buzz and Millie. We were just beginning our quest into the great unknown when we saw you and Mr. Snake engaged in what could have been a tragic incident for you. Are you all right? You look as though you may not have eaten very well lately. Not that you’re skinny, but I have seen fatter cats in my day.”

Fara told them her sad story of abandonment as a small kitten, of her two-year exile in the desert, of her difficulty in finding food and water, of the many dangers she’d had to face. The four travelers all expressed their dismay over her tale.

“But surely, there must be somewhere out there where life for you would be better,” Rollie exclaimed. “How far have you traveled? Have you gone over the next hill to see what was there? That’s what we’re doing, going over the next hill and the next until we find that land of plenty.”
“I’ve been too busy trying to stay alive to do much traveling or sightseeing,” Fara assured them. “But if you’re going on and wouldn’t mind my joining you, I think I might like to see what’s over that hill. Or the next.”

The four travelers gathered outside Fara’s hearing and discussed the idea. Then they came to an agreement. “I can’t see why you shouldn’t join us. After all, five heads are better than four, and you can be our forward ground scout to warn us of any dangers on the trail ahead. How does that sound to you?”

Fara thought it sounded just fine.

And now there were five of them.

Monday, April 4

Arbor - Chapter 10

Chapter 10 – The Great Out There

Dawn happened. The four travelers continued north through yard after yard, until finally, in early morning, they came to a street that went directly east, down a slope toward the opening that Buzz had told them about. The wall around the city opened like a mouth to allow the party egress to that world out there, the Great Out There that Rollie had envisioned.

“Rollie, Rollie, I think I see something ahead of us,” Fred croaked. Buzz and Millie flew down to them and hovered above them.

“See, Rollie, just like I told you,” Buzz hummed with pride. “Here it is, the beginning of the next stage in our adventure.”

“But from what I’ve seen out there,” Millie countered, “I can’t think it’s a better place than the Arbor. This looks just scary.”

The four of them looked out to the east, through the gap in the wall, Fred and Rollie standing, Buzz and Millie hovering. What they saw was this: a slope just beyond the street for cars that led down to a dry stream, plants and weeds and bushes and trees of greens and grays and browns. And on the other side of the dry stream was an even steeper slope that went up and up, and on the horizon were saguaros silhouetted against the sky. “All right, then,” Rollie said to them. That’s where the way leads us.”

Rollie had found and stripped another walking stick and was now using it to tap his steps down the slope toward the opening. Across the black of the street, they noticed six white lines painted just at the point where the walls opened. None of the travelers knew what they were for. Magic of some kind to keep out spooks and goblins. What they didn’t know, not even Rollie with his mysterious perceptions, was that the lines were called a cattle guard, to keep cows from entering the city. But it was a fake cattle guard, and apparently the city leaders, in all their wisdom, felt that cows could read signs indicating what the lines were, a cattle guard, and would therefore not dare to cross them. Any cow smart enough to read the sign would surely be smart enough to see the falsity of the guard. But since Rollie had never seen any cows and no one else in the party had ever seen any cows, the sign must have been working.

Rollie and Fred kept well off the road, for there were many cars moving in and out of the entrance to the city. But no one took notice of one small rabbit and one very small lizard, nor of the whizzing hummingbird and fluttering butterfly.

They paused as they got to the opening, gazing across a highway toward the east. No humans, no houses, not much of anything but mesquite and sage and tired saguaros pointing cactusy arms at the sky.

“Hmmm,” Fred croaked sarcastically, “so this is the paradise we were looking for, huh, Rollie?”

“No, Fred, my doubtful friend, this is just the beginning of our trip. What you see ahead of us is just the gate through which we have to pass to get to the glory we seek.”

“Whew, Rollie. Those words must smell bad even to you. Did I really hear you say what I thought I heard you say? ‘The gate through which we have to pass to get to the glory we seek’?”

Rollie pulled his ears down and used them to cover the smile on his face. “All right, all right. That did sound a bit stuffy, didn’t it. I think I just fell into the trap my mother built around my speech. I apologize, Fred.”

Fred and Rollie waited until all traffic had passed, and when the road was clear they hurried across and down the slope on the other side. Their two aerial friends flew along with them. Rollie may have been happy about the sight ahead of them, but the other three were a bit apprehensive about what they saw. Was this desolation all there would be or would there be glory beyond?

Sunday, April 3

Arbor - Chapter 9

Chapter 9 - Oliver Owl

Oliver Owl was a great horned owl, huge and powerful as birds go. Red, the Harris hawk, was also large and powerful but not nearly as large as Oliver. The two never had cause to test which one was more powerful, more dangerous as a foe. Red did most of his hunting during the day, Oliver during the night. And neither of them engaged in aerial combat just for the thrill of the battle. They were hunters, not fighters.

During the day, Oliver would perch high in a eucalyptus tree, upright as a statue, still as a stone. Passersby might glance up and see him, but many would think it was just some aberration of the tree, a trunk that had been sheered off by a storm. With a closer view, one would first notice the horns or ear tufts that stood up above his head, and a mouth that appeared to be smiling, but only appeared so. Oliver seldom smiled.

As the orange orb of the sun set and dusk closed in, shadows lengthening and darkening, Oliver stirred on his high perch, feeling the pull of the oncoming night, feeling a tug in his hunting heart and a growl in his empty belly. The sky to the west was a glory of oranges and pinks and purples and reds, but Oliver wasn’t interested in a sunset. He was interested in filling his empty belly

Oliver’s eyes opened and shone like silver dollars in the dying light. In daylight, whenever he wasn’t napping, his eyes were gold coins with ripe-olive centers, but now they looked like ghost eyes, and just as frightening.

He shook his head and emitted a low “Hoo-hoo hooooo hoo-hoo!” Moments passed with no answering cry. Then again, “Hoo-hoo hooooo hoo-hoo!” Still no answer. Oh well, he thought, I’m not in the mood for romance anyway. I’m more interested in food.

He launched himself into the air with heavy flaps that sounded like someone shaking a heavy rug. Shaking it slowly. The moon was three-quarters full and his body in flight was captured against the white moon as he sailed over his territory, looking for any furtive movement. Oliver was a patient owl. But Oliver was a hungry owl.

* * *

Rollie and his band had waited until the sun was nearly down before continuing through the yards. The going was much easier and even Fred seemed, if not happy, at least resigned to the trip. They got news from Millie and Buzz that the high wall was just ahead, a wall of about seven feet, insurmountable to the groundlings but not to Millie and Buzz.

When they reached the wall, Buzz told them to turn left and follow the wall until they reached the opening that led to the outer world. By this time, the sun was down and the moon was no longer yellow, but ghostly pale in the eastern sky.

The travelers moved slowly along, passing from one yard to another, sometimes having to detour to the front of the house when they came to a walled yard, most often passing through yards without walls. And sometimes the walls between yards had small openings at regular intervals along the ground, allowing Rollie and Fred to get through to the next yard. It was a tight fit for Rollie but he managed to squeeze through by tucking his ears behind his head, hunching his shoulders together, and releasing all the air in his lungs.

“Ooo,” he said to Fred after one such endeavor, “I feel like I might get halfway through and then get stuck, my front end on one side and my hind end on the other. Next time, you follow me and if I get stuck, you push and push from behind.”

Fred made a face in the dark that Rollie couldn’t see and said, “Why don’t I go through first and if you get stuck, I’ll just tug on your ears? I’d rather pull on your ears than push on your butt.”

Rollie wasn’t about to argue the point.

Overhead, Oliver Owl soared between the moon and the earth, casting a huge, menacing shadow that moved behind the two travelers. Ah, he thought, a tasty rabbit and a lizard hors d’oeuvre. How delightful. He tucked his huge wings and dove straight down. Rollie and Fred were completely unaware of their impending doom. Oliver’s eyes were large in anticipation. Suddenly a bullet shot past him and he blinked and lost his concentration, nearly crashing into a palo verde tree. He swooped back up into the air and prepared to dive again. But before he could even turn, another bullet flashed past—Whish!—and then again—Whish!—and then again—Whish! Oliver circled, searching for the cause of these flying bullets. The moonlight finally revealed what was interfering with his hunting—a hummingbird, a tiny, irritating, infuriating, pesky pest of a hummingbird, flashing back and forth in his path.

He decided to ignore the mosquito-bird and dive again, but now Rollie and Fred were aware of this dual between Goliath Owl and little David Hummingbird, and they watched the huge owl grow larger and larger, aimed right at them.

“Run!” Rollie shouted.

“I’m running!” Fred answered, running as fast as his little lizard legs would carry him.

Rollie dove for one of the openings in the wall to the next yard. “Ooof!” he exploded as the air in his lungs left him. But not enough to allow him to make it through the hole. He was stuck, head and arms out on the far side, hind end sticking out on the near.

“Push, Fred! Push!” Rollie screamed.

And Fred, with as much speed as he could muster, ran right into the cottony tail of his friend, and both popped through to the other side just as Oliver Owl struck the now empty hole into which they had vanished. The owl screeched out his anger and frustration, hopping back and forth as he peered through the vanishing hole. “SCREEECH!” he screamed. “Ah hah! I see you there! And I’ll get you yet!”

He hopped up with wings flapping and landed on top of the wall. Then he jumped to the ground on the other side. His prey seemed to him to be frozen in terror. Good, he thought, an easy meal after all. But as he advanced on the rabbit and the lizard, mouth agape to take them, the rabbit whipped a long stick out from behind him and at the last possible moment thrust it directly into the owl’s mouth.

“Oh, Ow Ow Ow!” Oliver screamed. “What have you done, you little devil? Oh, my poor mouff!” He lifted a taloned leg and extracted a piece of Rollie’s walking stick, threw it on the ground, and glared at the two before him. Rollie was brandishing the rest of his walking stick like a saber, taking a fencer’s stance, off arm raised, tip of the stick circling, aimed right at Oliver. Fred was cowering behind his friend, peeking out from behind the rabbit.

“Come on, big boy, come on!” Fred taunted in his lizardy growl. “You fool with Rollie the Rabbit King and you’ll get more than a sore mouff!” Oliver feinted at Rollie, and Fred tucked his head between his shoulders in fear. Like a rabbit Zorro, Rollie kept the stick twirling and twirling in Oliver’s face and the bird backed off and hissed as only a great horned owl can hiss.

“You two twerps aren’t worff all this fuss. There must be an easier dinner for me this night.” With that pronouncement, Oliver flew off with heavy flaps of his wings, up and away to look for less gamey game.

Buzz flew down to sit on a nearby twig, where Millie joined him.

“Oh,” Millie breathed, “you were magnificent, Rollie. And you, Buzz, were an aerial wonder, like a tiny fighter plane attacking a monster bomber.”

“What about me? What about me?” Fred asked, now having come out from behind Rollie. He did a set of pushups to puff himself up. “I scared the wits out of that big old dummy. He knew he couldn’t fool with the two of us. We’da had him down for the count in no time. But he took off like a sissy sparrow.”

“Yes, Fred,” said Buzz, “you were your usual brave self. And I loved the way you tried to tackle Rollie’s cotton tail. I’m just amazed you didn’t bounce off him like a rubber ball.”

“I think,” said Rollie, now breathing much easier, “that should be adventure enough for us this night. Let’s all find a nice place to curl up and sleep for a few hours. Then we can see what else lies in store for us.”

Saturday, April 2

Arbor - Chapter 8

Chapter 8 – They’re Off to See the Lizard

The morning was cool, or as cool as it could get on a morning in May in this hot and dry place they lived. Rollie was up early, stretching and yawning as he left the burrow. His mother Sara, his father Ben, and his sister Sally were right behind him.

“Oh, Rollie,” his mother said, “do you really think you should do this? I fear for you. I know what it’s like out there and I know it’s dangerous.” Sara was rocking back and forth and washing her little paws together in despair. “I wish you’d give up this foolishness.”

His father, who had very little to say at any time, finally spoke. “You know I’ve never interfered with any of your crazy ideas, Rollie. You know I can’t forbid you to do this, but I wish you’d listen to your mother. I know, I always do.”

Rollie assured them he wouldn’t do anything foolish, take any unnecessary chances. “But I am going. This is just something I have to do. I promise that my three companions and I will come back safe and sound. And with visions of places and things we can only now dream of. There just must be a better place out there. And we will find it.”

Both Sara and Ben shrugged their shoulders, flipped their paws in the air in resignation, and both came to Rollie for a goodbye hug. Hugs over, they returned to the burrow.

Sally Rabbit spoke softly to her brother, “Rollie, I wish I could go with you but mother and father aren’t even happy about your going. Please be careful and when you get back you have to tell me everything about what you see and do, every detail. That will make me feel like I was there with you.”

Rollie gave her a hug and a brotherly nose rub and promised he would be careful and would share his adventures with her.

Fred came scuttling over from his place in the first arborvitae, running fifteen steps, then yawning and stretching and doing his pushups before running fifteen more steps.

“Rollie, old friend and traveling companion of mine, how are you this fine morning? Are you ready to depart?”

“I’m more than ready. It seems like I’ve been ready my whole life. And you, Fred, any second thoughts about going with me on this quest of mine?”

“No. Maybe a third thought or two, but no seconds. I wonder, though, if our other two travelers are still as willing.”

“And speaking of them, here comes Millie, fluttering and flapping down from the orange tree.”

Millie landed on a low branch of the arborvitae, flapped her wings several times, and said, “Isn’t it a wonderful day for a voyage of discovery? I feel like I’m about to depart on a sea of sky, and the clouds are bright and puffy and the winds are gentle. What a nice day for a sail.”

“That must mean you’re still going with us. And Buzz, where is he?” Just as these words left Rollie’s mouth, there was a flash of emerald and ruby, zipping past them, then whirring back to hover right in front of Rollie’s nose. Buzz was so close Rollie feared he might just give his nose a little hummingbird peck.

"I'm here, I’m here, I’m here, and as ready as I’ll ever be for this adventure into the wild blue. And Millie is here, and Fred is here, and we’re all here. So, when are we going?” Buzz’s nervous energy was catching, and the others felt their enthusiasm grow.

“I see no reason to delay” Rollie said. “The sun is just peeking over the edge of the house. We have the light of day, and we can find provisions along the way. So, let’s be off.” Rollie snapped off a sturdy branch of arborvitae and stripped it of its flat sprays of hand-like leaves. “Now I’m ready. A journey requires a walking stick, and this will be mine.” He raised the stick high above him, then brought it down parallel to the ground, directing it to the east. “And we’re off!” he said, like a general leading his troops.

Tucker Rabbit stood in the shadows of the Arbor and watched them go. He smiled as he considered their departure, the possibility that none of them would ever come back. He didn’t really care if the monarch or the hummingbird did or didn’t come back, but he especially wanted the ugly one and the little irritating one to lose themselves in the wild, fall in a hole and kill themselves, get eaten up by monsters. He didn’t care what befell them as long as he never had to see them again. He let out a low chuckle when he imagined some of the awful things his mind conjured for them. He turned and went back to his burrow.

Just as the four travelers were taking their first hops and waddles and flights, they noticed Dusty and Squeakie watching them from their perch within the back patio of the house.

“Good morning, Dusty and Squeakie,” Rollie greeted them. We’re just about to start on our way. Don’t you wish you could join us? There will be adventures enough for all.”

“We wish you luck, travelers. Much as we’d like to join you, we can’t. Neither of us has ever been outside this house. Our pets just don’t allow it. We can make them do almost anything we ask, but letting us out in the wild is forbidden.” Dusty glanced at Squeakie, seeing if he confirmed what he’d said. “And since we’ve never been outside, we can’t even give you any advice about where to go or what to avoid. We’ve heard tales of wild things that go jump in the night, creatures that would leap from the dark and gobble you up if you aren’t watchful. I guess that’s why we’re more than happy to live within these walls. No bad creature can get us in here.”

“Oh yes,” echoed Squeakie, “I’ve seen terrible flying things that swoop through the yard; I’ve seen large loping animals come crashing through the arborvitae. I’ve seen them look at me through the screen and lick their lips, and I’ve turned and fled into the safety of the house. They may not be able to get through this screen, but their terrible eyes have haunted me in many of my dreams, and I shiver and I shake and even whimper a bit when I dream of them.”

“Good luck, good speed, be careful, and come back safe,” said Dusty, lashing his tail and waving one paw.

Squeakie squeaked a high “Goodbye! Goodbye! Hurry back!”

Millie and Buzz flew off to reconnoiter.

* * *

Their journey began this way.

They went around the house to the east, crossed the street in front, into the yard of the house on the other side, made their way into the back yard, crossed that yard and into the one just to the north, then another yard, and another yard. They saw creatures just like them as they went—rabbits, doves, grackles, lizards, many many quail mothers and fathers with broods of from one to twenty-four tiny weeuns trailing along behind. They greeted them all but didn’t stop to chat.

It took them two hours to make their way through a dozen yards to the north.

When the sun was up one fourth of the way into the sky, they stopped in a thick oleander bush to assess their trip so far. It was there that Millie found them.

“I’ve flown ahead and not seen anything but exactly what we’ve seen so far. Houses and houses and yards and yards and creatures such as us. But nothing very exciting, nothing very dangerous. And Buzz has flown far ahead and should report back soon.”

They rested, Fred on his belly next to Rollie, panting and grunting and moaning, “I don’t know, Rollie, this doesn’t seem very exciting, and I should be taking my mid-morning nap right now. Tell me again, what is it we’re looking for and where are we going and when will we get there and will we have some adventures?” He rolled over on his back with his little lizard legs sticking up the air. “It’s so hot, Rollie, and my feet are killing me. Can we stay here long enough for me to take a nap? Can we, can we?”

Rollie ignored his little friend but some of Fred’s words managed to seep through his concentration. Where? What? How Soon? Excitement? Adventures? Their quest had just begun and already Fred was questioning it. Even he was beginning to doubt what his heart had told him, that there was a better place to be found somewhere. But where?

Just then, Buzz flashed down to join them on a nearby oleander branch. Millie fluttered down to sit beside him.

“What news, Scout Buzz?” Rollie asked, hoping Buzz would have some good news about what lay ahead.

“I’ve been far north and east and it looks like there’s a wall enclosing all the houses and yards, and an opening in the wall that leads to a whole world of open space. I couldn’t see exactly what lies beyond the wall, but whatever it is, there’s a lot of it.”

Well, Rollie thought, the news wasn’t all good nor all bad, just sort of no news. Which, he had heard, was the same as good news. But at least now they had a more immediate goal, the opening in the wall and all that lay beyond.

“All right, Fred, up and at ‘em,” Rollie said, nudging Fred’s exposed stomach. “We have to keep going or there’s no point in going at all. You can nap later on.”

“Ohhhh,” Fred moaned. “You go on without me and I’ll catch up. Just leave me here.”

“No, Fred, I’m not going to leave you. We’re in this together and it’s far too early for you to be giving up. You’ll just have to get up and go on, and then get up and go on again. One lizard foot in front of the other, one rabbit hop after another. The race is not to the swift but to the determined. We’re on a mission, and only the faint of heart would think of giving up.” He smiled at his friend. “I know you’re not a quitter. Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Why, why, you’re my . . . Sancho Panza.” Where in the Arbor did he come up with that name, thought Rollie. It had just popped into his head. Who or what is a Sancho Panza? Well, it sounded good anyway.

“I’m your what?” Fred asked. “I’m your sandchew pansy? I’ve been called a lot of things in my life but never that. I don’t chew sand and I’m no pansy,” he said indignantly.

With that having been said, Fred got awkwardly to his feet. “But soon we’ll stop to rest and maybe have some lunch. Promise me that, Rollie. I need to find some fire ants and stoke up my furnace, get my motor going.” They left the oleander. Millie and Buzz would stay ahead of them, but not far this time. The two scouts would act as guardians of their path, to warn them of impending danger.

They crossed another road, through another two sets of houses, then another road, then two more sets of houses. By this time, the sun was at its zenith and the day had warmed to an uncomfortable degree.

As they started across another road, Fred began hopping and jumping as though he had fire ants in his pants. “Oh, ooo, ow ow ow, hot hot hot!” he squawked in his bull frog voice. “Oh ouch ouch! This stuff is hot enough to roast a rooster!” He made it to the other side and then scurried into the shade of a large palo verde tree in front of the house on that side. Rollie joined him, hopping swiftly after his friend. He didn’t admit it to Fred, but he could swear he’d felt his toes start to sizzle. Millie and Buzz joined them there.

“I think we’ll find us a nice shady patch of oleander to rest awhile and maybe eat a bit. We can always begin again after the day cools down. Would that plan satisfy you, Fred?”

“Hmmm,” Fred said. “Let me think about that for a minute. Okay, minute’s up. We’ll rest if you say so, even though I’m more than willing to keep going. Rest it is. Now to find some fire ants.”

They made their way into a deep hedge of oleander where they sat for a while, both of them rubbing their hot toes and feet, Millie and Buzz flapping their wings like fans to cool their companions. The shade was deep and soon they felt refreshed but hungry.

Rollie went off to find some arborvitae berries and Fred to find some fire ants. Millie and Buzz flew off to find a flowery lunch nearby. After satisfying themselves they all returned to the oleander to rest until the day cooled. Their first steps and flights had been taken and now they were committed to the rest of the steps and flights, hot and wearisome as they might be. And who knew, they might still find adventures to stir even the most grumpy of lizards.

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